THE ROSS BLOG
AR   2020-02-27
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BLOG 2020

Hard work
Liz and Mollie

Coronavirus

UK sunk
Deviant Art
British Isles after 100 m
rise in sea level

Kendall Jenner

NZH
New Zealand Herald

 

2020 February 27

Primaries

The New York Times

Single-winner elections do a poor job of winnowing a large field of candidates down to one with majority agreement. They encourage nastiness, because it's all or nothing for each candidate.
Ranked-choice voting works on a simple premise: Instead of being forced to choose a single candidate, voters rank some or all of the candidates in order of preference. They rank their favorite candidate first, their next-favorite candidate second, and so on. If one candidate wins a majority of the vote outright, he or she is the winner. If not, the ballots are tallied in a series of rounds. In each round, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated. Each ballot ranking that candidate first is then transferred to the candidate whom it ranked second. The process repeats, eliminating the lowest-scoring candidate and redistributing his or her ballots, until one candidate has more than half of the vote.
No democracy can long maintain its legitimacy with open-ended minority rule. Neither can political parties. Reform the primary system.

AR Do it in the UK too.

 □

Poetry

Melody Moezzi

Jalaluddin Muhammad Rumi was an Islamic scholar, theologian, poet, and mystic. Born in what is now Afghanistan in 1207, Rumi grew up in an era of deep political turmoil. He spent much of his life traveling in the Mideast before settling in Konya, now in Turkey.
In love with insanity, I'm fed up with wisdom and rationality.
Rumi considers insanity a mark of divine favor. The madness he promotes is rooted in ecstatic love; the one he condemns, in petty fear. The former creates a mystic, the latter a lunatic:
Become the sky and the clouds that create the rain, not the gutter that carries it to the drain.
For Rumi, ego is not only the worst of our human afflictions but also the root of them all:
Quit keeping score if you want to be free. Love has ejected the referee.
When it comes to the prison of our own ego, love is our only way out:
Every storm the Beloved unfurls permits the sea to scatter pearls.

AR Thank you, Melody.

 

2020 February 26

Markets and Coronavirus

Nouriel Roubini

Investors have yet to confront the severity of the coronavirus outbreak. The worst is yet to come:
 The epidemic is becoming a global pandemic. We do not know yet how many other countries worldwide will experience a severe outbreak.
 The impact will not peak before the end of Q1. Global supply chains are being seriously disrupted at a time when China accounts for about 20% of global GDP. When the disease spreads to other markets, this damage will increase. Last year, corporate capex dropped in view of the risks of a US−China trade war and a hard Brexit. Now, capex will be pushed back further to wait and see how bad the outbreak will be. Consumers will stay at home.
 Markets might not rebound in Q2 and beyond. Assuming a V-shaped recovery is highly optimistic. Growth is more likely to return to an annualised level of 6% from Q2 onward, with China at 2.5%.
 Policymakers have not taken strong early action. Central banks run out of bullets. The US Fed will probably react in Q2 by cutting rates. But monetary policy cannot resolve the negative supply shock.
The coronavirus outbreak is likely to be only one of many negative shocks that will hit the global economy this year. The risk of a global recession is rising.

AR What a time to set off into a Brexit sunset.

 

2020 February 25

Zoonotic Diseases

Quanta

Coronavirus has the formal WHO name COVID-19 and also the name SARS-CoV-2.
It is the third pathogenic novel coronavirus to emerge over the past two decades. The first caused SARS, a serious and atypical pneumonia. The second, MERS-CoV, emerged a decade later and caused MERS. Since its identification, nearly 2,500 cases of MERS-CoV infection and nearly 900 deaths have been documented. The SARS-CoV epidemic proved larger but less deadly, with approximately 8,000 cases and nearly 800 deaths.
MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV appear to originate in animals, and the same is likely true of SARS-CoV-2. This makes them zoonoses, diseases that can jump between humans and other animals. The closest genetic relatives of SARS-CoV-2 sequences appear to be bat coronaviruses, with the role of intermediate species possibly played by the pangolin. Four coronaviruses that cause colds in humans also seem to have zoonotic origins.
Coronaviruses use a surface glycoprotein to bind to host cells. Most coronaviruses that infect humans appear to latch onto one of three specific host receptors on mammalian cells. These proteins are all present on epithelial cells of the human airway, presenting easy targets to any airborne virus.
Another virus that commonly emerges from animal reservoirs is influenza. Almost all known influenza viruses originate in waterfowl. Many viruses move from birds into other species, including humans. An avian H1N1 virus was responsible for the global pandemic of 1918 that caused an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide.
Coronaviruses and influenza both have pandemic potential.

 

2020 February 24

Coronavirus

New Scientist

The global spread of covid-19 seems to have exploded in recent days, with outbreaks revealed in Iran and Italy and a massive increase in cases in South Korea. World Health Organization director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus says the window of opportunity for containing the virus is narrowing.
Some countries, such as Singapore, have detected most of the infected people that epidemiologists say they should be getting from China, but many have not. On average, countries are detecting only a third of expected cases.
Until now, efforts to fight the virus have focused on containment, in which all detected cases and their contacts are quarantined. But when there is enough infection about, people catch it without it being obvious who they got it from.
As containment fails, the world enters the mitigation phase of epidemic response, with quarantine replaced by actions such as closing schools, canceling mass gatherings, and similar social distancing measures. This is aimed at slowing the epidemic, so as not to overwhelm medical facilities.

 

2020 February 23

Brexit Facts

Jonathan Portes

The vote for Brexit was driven less by economics than by other views. A far higher proportion of people with conservative views voted for Brexit than of people with liberal views. Their views explain their vote much better than their economic circumstances. Older and less educated people mostly voted for Leave.
It is difficult to separate cultural and economic aspects. Many regions outside the capital that voted for Brexit are on the margins of the British economy, have been affected by industrial decline, and feel left behind. Regions that voted Leave were the most affected by austerity policies.
People who felt that they had fallen behind voted against what they thought was the status quo.
Britain has become more socially liberal. People who have not gone along with this change, including older people and people who have not gone to university, were more likely to support Brexit.
The EU free movement of people fueled opposition to social liberalism. But Britain has record high employment and low unemployment, and studies show that migrants have no overall negative impact on employees and wages and salaries.
Rejection of migration is not higher where the proportion of immigrants is high. But immigration is perceived generally as a loss of control. The UK has changed faster than many wanted.
The Remain campaign emphasized the economic benefits of staying in the EU. It was a fundamental misjudgment that they could win the referendum solely with economic arguments.
The Remain campaign neglected to raise awareness of the positive side of the EU. Free movement brings benefits for British citizens, but voters who see immigration positively were not mobilized. Remainers preferred not to talk about immigration at all.
EU membership has not brought about a loss of identity and sovereignty for the UK. The government should have said that what bothers people is caused not by the EU but by government decisions such as austerity.
The economic consensus is that Brexit is bad for the economy. So far, our predictions look pretty accurate. We need to counter the myth that economists have misjudged Brexit.

AR No surprises here.

 

2020 February 22

Latest Neutron Star Collision

Quanta

Last summer, the gravitational wave observatory known as LIGO detected two neutron stars merging. The event challenges everything we thought we knew about neutron star pairs.
The pair has a total mass of around 3.4 M⦿. All previously known examples of binary neutron stars weighed somewhere around 2.6 M⦿. Such heavy pairings could be almost as common as the lighter binary star systems we have been studying for decades.
Perhaps massive mergers were hard to detect before LIGO because they happen so rapidly. With a photon telescope, you have to be looking in the right place at just the right time. But LIGO is omnidirectional and monitors the entire sky.
We cannot explain why there should be so many big neutron stars. To do so, we would need to find as many heavy progenitor stars as we do lighter stars. But we think fewer than 1 in 10 of all stars are big enough to make such massive neutron stars.
The authors used computer simulations to model the life cycle of compact stellar objects over billions of years. The code accounts for the effects of relativity, magnetism, gravitational radiation and much more. It also lets researchers plug in assumptions about details that are not fully understood. Yet the team could not produce anywhere near the number of heavy neutron star pairs that LIGO suggests.
Supernova simulations are complex and difficult. The models that drive them are conjectural. We need to reconsider what we thought we knew about neutron stars.

Arxiv reference

 

2020 February 21

Substance Abuse Resources for Veterans

Keith Prance

We've all heard the horror stories from Iraq, the Afghanistan war, the Kosovo war, and other wars which have taken place around the world. Young, vibrant men and women volunteer to go overseas and fight for their country. They sacrifice their peace of mind, time, and comfort.
But when they come back, some of these individuals are not the same >>>

 

2020 February 20

Zen

A Zen student asked how long it would take to gain enlightenment if he joined the temple.
"Ten years," said the Zen master.
"Well, how about if I work really hard and double my effort?"
"Twenty years."

 

2020 February 19

Agency

New Scientist

Our ability to make decisions is a superpower to alter the physical world, apparently at will.
Carlo Rovelli: "How can we insert this agency into the general picture of nature?"
Sean Carroll: "Quantum fields don't have any agency. Atoms don't, do bacteria? I don't know, but human beings do. Somewhere along that continuum it sneaked in."
The aim of physics is to characterise the interaction and evolution of reality's elements through fixed mathematical laws with predictive power. That mission is ongoing.
Jenann Ismael: "We think of ourselves as coming from outside the causal order and somehow intervening in it, making things happen."
Matt Leifer: "If I'm saying that something doesn't boil down to the laws of physics, then I'm basically positing something supernatural, that's outside natural laws."
Carroll: "We see agents that make choices and exert a causal influence on what happens in the world, and then science comes along and says you're actually a bunch of particles or atoms and you're just obeying differential equations. What we want to figure out is how those things can both be true at the same time."
Emergence is the idea that behavior and properties that are inscrutable when you look at single components of a complex system pop into existence when you view things as a whole. Agency changes the future, but not the past.
Rovelli: "We do something and then something happens. How do entropy and the second law of thermodynamics come in?"

AR We are not just in the causal order. We are the causal order. We emerge at a macroscopic level to bring the sensorium to a synthetic unity of apperception. Our separate selves are sparks emitted by the godhead in primal acts of creation. Our personal selfhood is a corrupt reflection of the divine order. The natural order is the manifestation of divinity. God is all.

 

Beach
AR
Sand blown by storms:
my beach this morning

Patricia MacCormack
Patricia MacCormack
The Ahuman Manifesto

Bumblebee
SCITECH EUROPA
Insect population decline:
Why you should care
Andrew Cunningham

I
(x2 + ((b + 1)y)2 + z2 − 1)3
− x2z3 − ay2z3 = 0
 EU 

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak

Parliamentary report on
Russian interference in
UK democracy is yet
to be published

Parasite

 

2020 February 18

Trump Diplomacy

Gideon Rachman

Boris Johnson has got Brexit done. A US trade deal is meant to be much of the dividend. But the prime minister has just had a row with Donald Trump, following his decision to let Huawei help build the UK 5G telecom network. America's closest allies don't trust Trump, but Australia and Germany also see Huawei in their 5G network as a risk. Trump may pursue a UK trade deal — or not. Johnson may now be hoping for a Democrat to win the US presidential election.

AR Smell the coffee, Boris: the Europeans were good friends.

 □

Cummings Disruption

Rachel Sylvester

Dominic Cummings sees the Treasury as a Remainer roadblock to reform. Cummings wants his revolution to reshape the state and tackle the liberal bias of the establishment. The BBC, the CBI, the civil service, the courts, the military, the universities, and parliament are all on his hit list. Cummings is no Conservative. His spad Andrew Sabisky is out already.

AR Kick out Cummings too, before he does more damage.

 

2020 February 17

Ahuman Manifesto

Daily Mail

Cambridge philosophy professor Patricia MacCormack says in her new book that giving birth is "the worst thing you can do" for the global climate due to human overpopulation. Her take on the responses: "I simply propose people not reproduce .. somehow, I want to kill children, which is ridiculous. Somehow, I'm proposing eugenics or some kind of ethnic population control .. and I think that what that shows is there is an anthropocentric — or a human — impulse to read acts of grace as, automatically, acts of violence."

AR Logic says she is right on birth.

 □

Spad Spat

Daily Mail

Downing Street chief spad Dominic Cummings called for "weirdos and misfits" in a job ad for new spads and then hired Andrew Sabisky, who in 2014 commented on the Cummings blog: "One way to get around the problems of unplanned pregnancies creating a permanent underclass would be to legally enforce universal uptake of long-term contraception at the onset of puberty. Vaccination laws give it a precedent, I would argue."

AR I too say it will come to this.

 

2020 February 16

German Conservatives

Der Spiegel

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has problems. Traditional voter milieus are eroding, their core supporters are dying off, coalitions are becoming more difficult to assemble, and old convictions no longer apply.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) is stepping down as party leader and designated successor to Angela Merkel as chancellor in the wake of CDU flirtation with the AfD in Thuringia last October.
 Friedrich Merz, 64, hopes to take over the CDU and succeed Merkel. He stands for economic liberalism and social conservatism and appeals to those who want a more authoritarian and masculine style of leadership.
 Armin Laschet, 58, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, is widely considered to be angling for the position as well. He represents a continuation of the Merkel course, which saw the CDU move to the center in recent years.
 Jens Spahn, 39, is a candidate from the younger generation who represents a more modern conservatism: "After so many years of being shaped by Angela Merkel, the CDU must relearn how to walk on its own."
CDU leaders are annoyed by the Values Union, which has opposed CDU policies it sees as too leftist. The Thuringia debacle led to criticism of the Values Union for weakening resistance to the AfD.
Konrad Adenauer shaped the CDU as a party for mainstream conservatism. His goal was to prevent the rise of a competing nationalist party. The Values Union says Merkel forgot that goal.

AR I back Merz.

 

2020 February 15

End of a Union

Emma Duncan

The UK might come apart.
The reunification of Northern Ireland with the republic seems increasingly likely. Sinn Fein wants reunification and is now a power in the land.
The Good Friday agreement requires the UK government to call a referendum on the matter when there is reason to believe there is a majority for reunification.
Ireland is no longer under the thumb of Catholic priests and has become more attractive to normal people in the north. Also, Westminster has been careless with NI.
Westminster stumbled over the Irish border. It opted to create a hard border in the Irish Sea, which divides NI from Britain and pushes it toward the republic.
The people of NI and Scotland voted against Brexit. Getting Brexit done was more important to England than preserving the Union.
Blame Westminster.

AR Blame Boris.

 □

Decline of the Novel

Joseph Bottum

Novels were central to Western culture a hundred years ago. They described what seemed the crisis of the modern self. At their highest and most serious level, they offered solutions.
Today the novel is moribund. Its failure signals an end of confidence in the values and goals of Western culture. The signs of the end are the dust on the unread books of our library shelves.
With the fading of a temporal horizon, history appears to have no discernible aim. Without goals and reasons, all that remains are past crimes. Uncompensated by achievement, unexplained by purpose, these sins seem overwhelming.
The novel at its most serious aimed at re-enchantment. It hungered to impart a kind of glow to the objects of the world, standing against the modern turns to science, government, and economics.
The great purpose of the modern novel was to re-enchant our sense of the world, to knit back together the interior and exterior realities which our age had split apart.

AR I'm writing a novel now!

 

2020 February 14

Can Journalism Be Saved?

Nicholas Lemann

This century has seen a dramatic economic devastation of journalism.
A number of forces converged to change newspaper journalism. Newspapers became almost entirely economically dependent on advertising. Newspaper journalists were likely to be college educated and to think of themselves as professionals, but television and radio had eroded their ability to be the prime deliverers of basic facts about daily events.
When the Internet arrived, many journalists saw it as a potential godsend. A newspaper could reach a much larger audience while shedding the cost and inconvenience of newsprint. Newspapers could become a free product supported by assembling a mass audience for advertisers.
Google and Facebook found a way to match advertisers with potential customers much more effectively and cheaply than newspapers ever did or could. They built far larger audiences than traditional media companies would have thought possible, without creating any content on their own. They were in the distribution business, not the content business.
Journalism has benefited from various forms of subsidy, support, and benevolence. In any other area where something is deemed essential to the healthy functioning of society, the argument that the best system for providing it is informal voluntary patronage would have no merit.
Journalism needs a more reliable support system to solve the crisis.

AR The crisis affects me personally too.

 □

10 + 11 = 1

Daniel Finkelstein

Government works better when the chancellor and the prime minister work together. Boris Johnson had no parliamentary best friend to appoint, so No 10 will bring chancellor and PM together by taking over No 11. But the Treasury has shown repeatedly that it is not easily brought to heel.

Absolute Power
Polly Toynbee

Rishi Sunak will be an obedient new chancellor. His advisers will merge with those of the PM and come under the control of chief spad Dominic Cummings. Absolute power now resides in No 10.

AR Will Sunak, like Javid, be "Chino" (chancellor in name only)?

 □

Rishi Sunak

Financial Times

At 39, Rishi Sunak is the first millennial to occupy one of the great offices of state. He has only weeks to pull together his first budget, scheduled for March 11.
A former financier, Sunak was elected in 2015 as MP for the Yorkshire constituency of Richmond. He became a PPS in 2017 and a junior minister in 2018.
In 2016, Sunak said the UK should leave the EU and set its own immigration rules without favoring EU citizens: "We are discriminating against countries with whom we have ties of history, language and culture."
The eldest of three children, Sunak was born in Southampton to parents of Punjabi descent. His father was a family doctor and his mother ran a pharmacy. He was head boy at Winchester College and read PPE at Oxford.
Sunak also took an MBA at Stanford, where he met his wife Akshata Murthy, whose billionaire father founded Infosys. He then worked at Goldman Sachs, TCI, Theleme Partners, and Catamaran Ventures.
Sunak: "I am thoroughly British, this is my home and my country, but my religious and cultural heritage is Indian, my wife is Indian. I am open about being a Hindu."

AR Sounds good enough for the job.

 

2020 February 13

UK Cabinet Reshuffle

BBC News, 1313 UTC

Change in the Treasury: Sajid Javid is out as Chancellor of the Exchequer, after rejecting an order to fire his team of aides, saying "no self-respecting minister" could accept such a condition. He is replaced by Rishi Sunak, MP for Richmond in Yorkshire, just in time for the budget in March.

AR Sunak comes over as smart.

American Justice

The New York Times

When senior government officials abuse their power by wielding law enforcement for private ends, whether to attack their enemies or protect their allies, they strike at the heart of constitutional democracy. The Constitution does not give President Trump the authority to run the Justice Department like a goon squad at one of his failed casinos.

AR Law is above politics.

 □

Dresden

Max Hastings

The German city of Dresden was destroyed on February 13/14, 1945, when more than a thousand British and American bomber aircraft dropped nearly four thousand tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city. The firestorm engulfed its historic centre and killed some 25,000 people. Every society that engages in a war becomes morally compromised.

AR War is political murder.

 

2020 February 12

US Presidential Primaries

The New York Times

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has emerged in front in the Democratic Hew Hampshire primary. Two other candidates, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, performed well in New Hampshire but have shown little capacity to resonate with nonwhite voters so far. Sanders is a maverick. His early hold on a fractured primary field is distressing Democrats.

AR Sanders is about as credible as US president as Jeremy Corbyn was as UK prime minister.

 □

Nominate Bloomberg

Thomas L. Friedman

All it takes to stop Donald Trump is for Democrats to nominate the right person to defeat him.
Russia and China will be voting Trump 2020 for three reasons:
1 Trump keeps America in turmoil and unable to do the hard work to stay on top
2 Trump is so disliked that he can never galvanize a global coalition against them
3 Trump will never challenge them on human rights abuses
Trump is their chump, and they will not let him go easily.
The only candidate on the Democratic side who has the track record, the resources, and the toughness to take on Trump is Michael Bloomberg.

AR Bloomberg is my pick too.

 

2020 February 11

Australia, Britain, Canada

The Guardian

In a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the "Canada-style deal" that Boris Johnson described as his goal in the negotiations contained tariffs, quota limits, and stringent level playing field conditions to ensure high standards.
She was surprised he cited the Australia model: "[The] European Union does not have a trade agreement with Australia. We are currently trading on WTO terms. And if this is the British choice ... we are fine with that [but] we are agreeing with Australia that we ... work in a trade deal with them. [The UK] can decide to settle for less, but I personally believe we should be way more ambitious."

Financial Access
In a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said: "Wherever possible we will grant equivalence on particular sectors of the financial industry. That is what we did with Canada, that's what we do with the United States and Japan, and it works."

AR Boris, end this farce and rejoin the EU asap.

 

2020 February 10

Oscar Winner

The New York Times

Parasite won the best picture award. Its director Bong Joon Ho won the best director award. The movie also won the awards for best original screenplay and best international feature.

 □

Parasite

Mark Kermode

Parasite is a remarkable experience, a melancholy ghost story, a tragicomic masterclass, a comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains, a tale of two families from opposite ends of the spectrum.
We first meet the Kim family in their lowly semi-basement home, hunting for stray wifi coverage and leaving their windows open to benefit from bug-killing street fumigation. They have nothing but one another and a shared sense of hard-scrabble entrepreneurism. So when son Ki-woo is faced with an unexpected opportunity to home-tutor a rich schoolgirl, he gets his gifted artist sister to forge a college certificate, bluffing his way into the job and into the home of the Park family.
The Park home is an architectural wonder perched high above the slums of Seoul, with views of luxurious lawns and starlit skies. While aloof Mr Park is at work, his anxious wife tends to their coquettish daughter and hyperactive young son. Their lifestyle relies upon tutors, a chauffeur, and a devoted housekeeper. Ki-woo realises that his own family could easily fill such roles, and hatches a plan to inveigle the Kims into the privileged lives and home of the Parks.
The Kim family are clearly every bit as smart as the Parks. And the Parks are as practised at deception as the Kims. In a stratified world, Parasite finds hidden depths beneath the surfaces.

 □

Blips in Time

Brian Greene

Science is a way of investigating the world that can yield demonstrable truths.
The second law of thermodynamics allows little pockets of order to form so long as they create enough disorder in their environment to compensate. We release enough heat and waste to tip the overall disorder balance sheet toward disorder.
Life and mind are blips on the cosmic timeline. There is no ultimate answer.

AR Physics nurses the stoic.

 

Aqua
Lateral Naval Architects
Bill Gates is believed to have paid $645 million to buy Aqua. The luxury superyacht is 113 m long and has five decks with space
for 14 guests, 31 crew members, plus gym, yoga studio, beauty room, massage parlor, and cascading pool. Down below are
two tanks cooled to 20 K for liquid hydrogen to power the ship when it takes to the seas in 2024.
 

The New Class War
Michael Lind

Acquitted
POOL

Heisenberg principle

Lily-Rose Depp
BAFTA
Lily-Rose Depp

Sun
NSO/AURA/NSF
Image of the Sun taken by the
Inouye Solar Telescope shows
a surface divided into cells
as big as Texas

 

2020 February 9

The New Class War

Matthew Goodwin

Our societies are increasingly divided between globalists and nationalists.
Michael Lind says the postwar compromise reflected in civil rights, trade unions, welfare states, and so on has been torn up. He blames a new technocratic overclass elite: a university-educated managerial and professional class that leans right on economics and left on culture.
As this overclass took power, the old compromise was replaced by a technocratic and elitist model. This left most of the population in Western countries with no voice in public affairs at all, except for shrieks of rage, so populism thrived.
In future, the key divide will be between the ignorant masses and a highly educated liberal elite. This sharp disconnect will pour gasoline on populist revolts. Either the technocratic elite will push us into a caste society, where winners and losers move further apart, or the populists will take over.
Lind proposes a return to democratic pluralism.

AR I expect a caste system.

 

2020 February 8

Trump Surveillance

The New York Times

The Trump administration has bought access to a commercial database that maps the movements of millions of cellphones in America and is using it for immigration and border enforcement. Since that data is available for sale, it seems the government believes that no court oversight is necessary.
The use of location data to aid in deportations demonstrates how out of date the notion of informed consent has become. When users accept the terms and conditions for various digital products, not only are they uninformed about how their data is gathered, they are also consenting to future uses they could never predict.
The courts are a ponderous and imperfect venue for protecting Fourth Amendment rights in an age of rapid technological advancement.

AR Corporations must not become tools of government.

 

2020 February 7

Brexit Smokescreen

Jonathan Lis

A UK Foreign Office memo this week says officials may no longer use the terms "deep and special partnership" (with the EU) or refer to the "implementation period" (this year) and must describe the outcomes on offer as "Canada" (hard Brexit) or "Australia" (no-deal Brexit). It says the UK will "restore our economic and political independence on 1 January 2021" (wave flag). The FO has mobilized language in a campaign against the British people.

AR FO = Frankly Orwellian

 

2020 February 6

Trump Acquitted

The New York Times

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump delivered the most harshly partisan State of the Union speech in memory. He hijacked the House chamber, turning what should be a unifying moment into a campaign rally.
On Wednesday, all Republican senators except Mitt Romney voted to acquit Trump of extorting a foreign government in an effort to rig the 2020 election and then of obstructing the Congress effort to investigate him.
Unlike the Democratic Party, Trump has a simple, powerful message: In three years, he has brought America back from the disaster he claimed it was in and set it on a path to a glorious new future.
The November election is a critical opportunity to defend the Republic through the straightforward expedient of voting Trump from office.

AR Vote him out before he wrecks everything.

 

2020 February 5

The Great American Comeback

Donald Trump

In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American Decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America's destiny. We have totally rejected the downsizing. We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never, ever going back!
To those watching at home tonight, I want you to know: We will never let socialism destroy American health care!

AR Nancy Pelosi ostentatiously tore up her copy of the speech.

 □

Whatever He Wants

Fintan O'Toole

The Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump is like a bad TV show. Republicans are determined to make this a show trial. The point of the trial is to vindicate Trumpism.
For Trump, the only force that matters is his own will. The doctrine of his will as the source of all authority must not be undermined by the trial. The leader is special. He makes the right call.
Democrats have tried to make thinking the wrong thoughts an impeachable offense. Impeachment thus turns on inquiries into the intent behind lawful conduct. Trump denies the existence of any constitutional limits on his pursuit of his private goals.
The Senate is a court, and Republican senators are the courtiers. It is impertinent for courtiers even to go through the motions of putting the monarch on trial. If Trump wins a second term, he can do whatever he wants.

AR King Trump has never before looked so ominous.

 □

Heisenberg Limit Updated

Anna Demming

Researchers have updated the Heisenberg limit, which sets a limit on measurement accuracy. The limit often cited differs from the correct limit by a factor of π.
When a physical quantity is measured, its value is initially assigned a probability distribution. In the old "frequentist" approach, only repeatable random events had probabilities.
A Bayesian approach accepts probabilities representing the uncertainty in any event or hypothesis and attributes a given probability distribution known as the prior. Assuming the parameter value is fixed lets the Bayesian approach lead to the usual Heisenberg limit. In fact, no generality is lost by adopting the Bayesian approach.
Previous work also proved the need for an additional factor of π in the Heisenberg limit, but it did not allow for adaptive approaches.

AR Good: Bayesian probability has a better rationale than frequentist probability.

 

2020 February 4

Usual Crap About Brexit

The Guardian

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and prominent Brexiteer Michael Gove: "It is better to have a good trading relationship with the United States, better to have the best trading relationship with the EU, but most of all it's right to stand up for Britain, and not to accept terms from other countries, if those terms aren't right for us."

AR For "us" read Gove and his gang of hardline Brexiteers, who don't represent me or most of the businesspeople, academics, scientists, or young people in the UK. When and how can we (the real "we" for me) pitchfork this Brexiteer incubus off our backs?

 

2020 February 3

Brexit Trade Deal Warning

Financial Times

The EU warns the UK there will be no extensive trade deal if the UK government insists on diverging from EU standards.
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier: "The UK answer will be fundamental to the level of ambition of our future relationship and the UK must know this. It will be up to the UK to decide."
UK prime minister Boris Johnson: "There is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection, the environment, or anything similar."

 □

British Trade With Chimerica

Simon Jenkins

No notional boost in trade with China or America can compensate for what hard Brexit would cost the economy. No such trade will reflect any increase in sovereignty. The UK is about to lose the muscle of EU collective negotiation. Any marginal rise in trade with China or America will be strictly on their terms, a.k.a. vassalage.

 □

British Academy Film Awards

Daily Mail

At the BAFTA ceremony last night in the Royal Albert Hall, 1917, directed by Sam Mendes, won seven awards: best film, director, outstanding British film, special visual effects, cinematography, production design, and sound.
Joaquin Phoenix won the leading actor award for his role in Joker, which also won awards for casting and original score.
Brad Pitt won the supporting actor award for his role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

 

2020-02-02

Against Realism

Donald D. Hoffman

Consciousness is fundamental. A conscious agent has experiences and interacts in social networks for which we can build a dynamical theory. From here we build up theories of learning, memory, problem solving, and so on.
Spacetime has been a foundational assumption in physics. But quantum theory and general relativity indicate that spacetime cannot be fundamental. Scattering amplitudes for elementary particles can be given simple expressions if you forget about spacetime.
The amplituhedron is a geometric object outside of space and time. The volumes of its various parts correspond to the probabilities of these scattering events. My aim is to work out how the dynamics of conscious agents can give rise to this amplituhedron.
The behavior of conscious agents depends on their current state. Your current state governs all the probabilities of what you do at the next decision point. You have only a finite memory to influence your future behavior.
Conscious agents pass experiences back and forth. As the number of interactions goes to infinity, we might get the connection to physics and the amplituhedron. We need to prove that the asymptotic dynamics of these social networks precisely fits into the structure of the amplituhedron.
Realism is the claim that physical objects have definite properties independently of observation. Locality is the additional assumption that those definite properties have influences that propagate no faster than the speed of light through space. Local realism is false.
Non-contextual realism is the claim that physical objects have definite properties when they are not observed, and these definite values do not depend on how you choose to measure them. Quantum theory says this is false too.
I propose that realism is false. What we see is more like a user interface or a virtual reality.
Think about a virtual reality game of tennis. You and a friend both have your headset and body suits on, you see her avatar on a tennis court, and you start playing. She hits the tennis ball to you, and you hit the same tennis ball back to her, but she is not seeing the same tennis ball that you see. There is no public tennis ball. A supercomputer is assembling our balls from bits.
Objective reality exists independently of me, but space and time are human forms of perception. Spacetime is emergent, not fundamental. There is a deeper reality beneath it.

AR The best we can say is that qubits lie deeper. In the beginning was a qubit, and it popped/pops into the reality of me and my world. Subject and object emerge, and spacetime emerges too from entanglements between qubits.

 

Timeless
AR
Timeless beauty outlives human folly: Beach this morning
 

Gone

 

2020 February 1

Brexit Is Done

Ian McEwan

Set aside for a moment Vote Leave lies, dodgy funding, and Russian interference. A matter of huge consequence came to be settled by a first-past-the-post vote and not by a super-majority because the referendum was merely advisory. But then advisory morphed into binding when populists threw magic dust in our eyes.
There is much that is unjust about the British state, but very little of that injustice derives from the EU. The Brexiteers persuaded voters to transform our collective fate for a generation. To cause sufficient numbers to believe that the source of all their grievances is some hostile outside element is the oldest trick in the populist handbook.
English nationalism is championed by a Vote Leave cabinet whose monument will forever be a special kind of smirk, perfected back in the days of the old Soviet Union. I'm lying, you know I'm lying, I know you know, and I don't give a damn: "The five-week prorogation of parliament has nothing to do with Brexit."
Most of the electorate did not vote to leave. Most of business, the trade unions, agriculture, science, finance, the arts, and even MPs were against Brexit. But the government ignored the public interest and shrank behind party cabals and slogans. The magic dust has blinded reason and diminished our children's prospects.

AR A tragedy of centennial magnitude has come to pass.

 

End
 

Fire
THE TIMES

UvdL
BBC
Ursula von der Leyen:
"We will always love you."

UK-EU

 

2020 January 31

Brexit Bongs

BBC News, 2300 UTC

A Big Ben recording has bonged. The UK has left the UK. Brexit party leader Nigel Farage: "This marks the moment of no return .. we are never going back."

 □

Trump Impeachment Trial

The New York Times, 2251 UTC

Senators have voted against including additional witnesses and documents in the impeachment trial. This clears the way for a swift acquittal of President Trump in the coming days.

 □

Brexit Day

Martin Fletcher

Brexit Day is here, but half the country still opposes Brexit.
Boris Johnson won the general election because he faced Jeremy Corbyn. The FPTP system let him win with 43.6% of the vote, barely 1% more than Theresa May in 2017. Exhausted voters were seduced by his latest lie: "Get Brexit Done."
A small band of wingnuts hijacked the UK. Tonight, thanks to them, the UK will leave the most successful experiment in multi-national collaboration the world has ever seen. We will withdraw from the biggest free-trade area ever created.
Instead of seeking to lead Europe and to shape it in our image, we will be cutting and running. After 47 years of EU membership, we will be turning our backs on loyal friends and allies. It will be a moment of profound national shame.
The truly hard negotiations to secure a trade deal with the EU have yet to start. The spectre of a disastrous no-deal Brexit will return with a vengeance in December. The Brexiteers have taken a huge and reckless gamble with our future.
I fear this will prove to be Britain's greatest mistake.

AR Spare a thought for the monarch who did zip to stop it.

 □

Brexit Day Precedent

Ben Macintyre

The event that best compares to Brexit is the English Reformation. Henry VIII withdrew from Europe and rejected foreign regulation between 1532 and 1534.
England broke with Rome and the Catholic Church because Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife, remarry, and beget a son. The breakaway was also powered by the wider Reformation movement and a flood of radical new ideas transmitted by the printing press. Like Brexit, the English Reformation had multiple causes.
The 1534 Act of Supremacy declared Henry VIII the "Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England" and proclaimed the English monarch to be the ultimate authority on legal and doctrinal matters. The Act of Appeals of 1533 asserted a broader English sovereignty: "This realm of England is an empire."
Henry began building a greater Britain. The Acts of Union imposed English law on Wales and granted the Welsh seats in parliament. By 1547, Henry was also king of Ireland. Elizabeth I later repelled an invasion by Catholic Spain and severed the Scottish relationship with Catholic France.
Then, as now, some merchants feared economic disaster, predicting the ruin of English trade with Catholic Europe under the Holy Roman Emperor. Like Brussels, Rome was accused of corruption and inefficiency.
The English Reformation changed everything and involved massive and sustained upheaval. British relations with Europe in this century will be stormy.

AR I predict some kind of war between continent and islanders by 2066.

 □

Wish Britain Well, EU Better

Timothy Garton Ash

According to Bloomberg Economics, by the end of 2020 Brexit will have cost Britain some £200 billion in lost economic growth. This is nearly as much (adjusted for inflation) as the UK has paid to the EU since it joined 1973.
We do not want Brexit to damage the larger European project. A Europe of unrestrained competition between states, all pursuing their narrowly defined national interests, is unlikely to remain democratic, prosperous, and peaceful for long. A "successful" Brexit depends on the continued existence of the EU. We should want Britain to do well after Brexit — and the EU to do even better.
At Oxford University, we will be working to ensure we remain fully engaged in European intellectual life, as we have been for the last 800 years.

AR When you come to the end of a lollipop, plop goes your heart.

 

2020 January 30

America, c'est moi!

CNN

President Donald Trump's impeachment lawyer Alan Dershowitz has rolled out a novel legal argument in his client's defense: The President's personal interest is the national interest when he's up for reelection. Because Trump believes his reelection is what's best for the country, whatever he does to secure a second term is in the national interest.

AR Why do lawyers get a bad press?

 □

Israel

Nathan Thrall

The Trump plan for Mideast peace calls for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza; for Jerusalem, including its Old City, to be the undivided capital of Israel; and for Israel to annex all settlements, as well as the Jordan Valley, creating a discontiguous Palestinian archipelago state, surrounded by a sea of Israeli territory.
Trump says the United States will recognize Israeli sovereignty over all the territory the plan assigns to Israel. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel pledges to annex all settlements and the Jordan Valley beginning on Sunday.
Members of the Israeli right celebrated the deal as the end of the possibility of an independent Palestinian state. The Palestine Liberation Organization condemned the plan for the same reason and called it the final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.
There are now more Palestinians than Jews living in the territory under Israeli control. Yet the plan prioritizes Jewish interests over Palestinian ones. It rewards and even incentivizes settlements and further dispossession of the Palestinians.
Israel is the only state perpetuating a permanent military occupation, with discriminatory laws for separate groups living in the same territory, that liberals around the world go out of their way to justify, defend, and fund.

AR Pourquoi?

 

2020 January 29

Europe Ratifies Brexit

BBC News, 1806 UTC

Members of the European Parliament overwhelmingly ratified the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement following an emotional debate in Brussels. After the vote, MEPs sang Auld Lang Syne. The UK is due to leave the EU on Friday at 23:00 UTC.

 □

Trump Peace Plan

Financial Times

Donald Trump says his Arab-Israeli peace plan lays the foundations for a realistic two-state solution. His plan makes Jerusalem the undivided capital of the Israeli state and gives a "meaningful portion" of the occupied West Bank to Israel. Trump unveiled the plan beside a smiling Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

AR Palestinians reject it outright. Jared, go back to school.

 □

Brexit Hard Landing

Rafael Behr

I had a heart attack. Brexit broke my heart. I was attached to the European project. It will hurt on Friday night.
Remainers lost the argument with negativity. Leavers were offered nothing in exchange for surrendering a prize for which they had voted, to which they were democratically entitled, and which they had not yet received.
Boris Johnson won by downgrading the promise of Brexit from reward to relief. From June 2016 to December 2019, UK politics flew in zero gravity. Arguments that should have weight had none and crazy notions flew unchecked.
The price of victory on a promise to "get Brexit done" is getting it done. From Friday, Brexit is heavy.

AR Doing it will overload 2020. Boris, watch your back.

 

2020 January 28

Bolton Book Bombshell?

The Times

In his new book The Room Where It Happened, former White House national security advisor John Bolton says President Trump told him the suspension of aid to Ukraine was directly linked to an investigation he wanted Ukraine to pursue into the son of Joe Biden.
The White House had had the Bolton manuscript since December 30 but still gone ahead with its defense that there was "no quid pro quo" for military aid.
The Senate trial had seemed to be moving to a quick end without witnesses this week. Now some Republican senators hint they are ready to vote with Democrats and demand witnesses.
Republican senator Lindsey Graham: "Let's see what's in the manuscript, let's see if it's relevant, and if it is, I'll make a decision about Bolton."
Trump: "The problem with John is it's a national security problem. He knows some of my thoughts. He knows what I think about leaders."

AR Knows some of "my thoughts" — don't we all?

 □

Finance For Fish?

The Times

A leaked Brussels diplomatic document shows the EU will insist that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) have a role in ruling whether the UK has breached any rules it signs up to in a post-Brexit deal.
Brexiteers called on the UK to walk away from talks rather than accede to the demands. But the withdrawal treaty agreed last week gives the ECJ a significant enforcement role.
EU negotiators say failing to reach an agreement by the end of the year equals cliff-edge in many areas. December 31 is the final deadline after which there can be no return to the status quo.
The EU will link any deal with access not only to EU financial markets but also to UK fishing waters.

AR This EU-UK story will run and run.

 □

More Mathematics Money?

The Times

The UK government has announced a funding boost for mathematics research.
Mathematician G.H. Hardy hated being asked about the point of his work and said only dull mathematics is useful. Unfortunately for Hardy, his work ended up laying the foundations of much of the internet. Most secure traffic on the internet now relies on apparently esoteric theories about prime numbers.
Mathematicians don't need much, just a notepad, a pencil, and a waste bin. Philosophers don't even need the waste bin.

AR The last sentence is my little joke.

 

Auschwitz
1944
Colorized scene at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the death camp liberated by the Red Army on January 27, 1945.
 

Amia Srinivasan
⦿ Cian Oba-Smith
Amia Srinivasan

CAN
JD
With CAN director Karen Loftus

Sofia Richie
Instagram
Sofia Richie

1917

SPIEGEL

Me today
HR
click4more

14 days

Gwyneth Paltrow
Gwyneth Paltrow

Goop
Goop

Sir Roger Scruton
ALAMY
Sir Roger Scruton
1944−2020

 

2020 Holocaust Memorial Day

The Road to Auschwitz

Rivka Weinberg

I am alive because my paternal grandfather's Spidey sense had him frantically looking for ways out of Germany in 1933. "When madmen are elected, it's time to leave the country," he said. Now I, and many others I'm sure, worry that a catastrophe is looming, and wonder how we can guard against it.
The road to Auschwitz was built by hate but it wasn't paved with indifference. It was paved with collaboration. To kill people living within a population, you have to be told who and where they are. You don't just march into Poland or France and magically know who to round up and where they live.
The truth about how massive moral crimes occur is both unsettling and comforting. It's unsettling to accept how many people participated in appalling moral crimes but comforting to realize that we don't have to be heroes to avoid genocides. We just have to make sure not to help them along.
What history teaches us is: Don't perpetrate; don't collaborate. If you can be heroic, that is laudable. Those lessons are hard to learn, but effective and easy enough to follow.

 

2020 Day 1, Year of the Rat

Vulgar Celebration

The Guardian

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has announced a program of celebrations to commemorate the UK departure from the EU on January 31.
Downing Street said union jack flags will line Parliament Square and the Mall on Friday and government buildings in Whitehall will be lit up in red, white, and blue. Millions of 50p coins bearing the words "Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations" will go into circulation.
A "commemorative light display" including a countdown clock will be staged in Downing Street in the hour up to 11 pm, the moment when UK membership of the EU ends. Officials say the light display will "symbolise the strength and unity" of the four nations that make up the UK.
Remain campaigner Lord Heseltine: "I think it is unwise of the government to rub our noses in it by celebrating our defeat at this hour."

AR May Boris rot in infamy for this vulgar circus.

 

2020 January 25

Amia Srinivasan

Jonathan Derbyshire

Amia Srinivasan is the new Chichele professor in social and political theory at All Souls College in Oxford. At 35, she is the youngest occupant of this chair, the first woman to hold it, and the first person of colour to do so.
In her forthcoming book The Right to Sex, Srinivasan says there is no defensible analogy to be drawn between literal and sexual starvation: "Sex is not a sandwich."
She tells students feminism is not a philosophy: "It's not a theory, it's not a set of ideas. It's a political struggle."
Srinivasan graduated summa cum laude from Yale and arrived in Oxford as a Rhodes scholar in 2007. Born in Bahrain to Indian parents, she lived as a child in Singapore, London, and New York.
AS: "There were years in graduate school when I did really feel like my mind was being pruned into a very specific tool that was good for one and one thing alone, which was analytic philosophy."
She claims an affinity with her Chichele predecessor Jerry Cohen: "I have a huge amount of respect for [him] because of his very serious engagement with Marxism."
AS: "Most philosophers hold fast to this faith in deliberation as leading us to social and political progress. That seems to me to come from a very naive conception of what politics actually is."

AR One more chair I will never occupy.

 

2020 January 24

Davos 2020

Prince Charles

We can't go on like this, with every month another record in temperatures being broken. If we leave it too long, and we have done, just growing things is going to become difficult.
Do we want to go down in history as the people who did nothing to bring the world back from the brink in time to restore the balance when we could have done? I don't want to.
Think for a moment: What good is all the extra wealth in the world, gained from business as usual, if you can do nothing with it except watch it burn in catastrophic conditions?
Greta Thunberg is remarkable. She represents one of the main reasons why I've been trying to make all this effort all these years. I've always worried about the fact that so often, in terms of humanity, we leave things too late, so you have to hit a brick wall and experience a catastrophe before anything happens.
Nature's contribution to the global economy is estimated to be worth $125 trillion annually. Nature is, in fact, the lifeblood of our financial markets. We must rapidly realign our own economy to mimic nature's economy and work in harmony with it.
I intend to do my utmost to ensure that the message of urgency, systemic change, collaboration and integration is heard. We simply cannot waste any more time. The only limit is our willingness to act, and the time to act is now.

 □

EU Signs WA

The Guardian

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel have formally signed the withdrawal agreement for the UK departure from the EU.
Michel: "Things will inevitably change but our friendship will remain. We start a new chapter as partners and allies."

 

2020 January 23

Brexit Law

The Guardian, 1706 UTC

HM the Queen has given her royal assent to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act.

 □

Climate Crisis

Al Gore

The burden to act on the shoulders of the generation of the people alive today is a challenge to our moral imagination. This is Thermopylae. This is Agincourt. This is the Battle of the Bulge. This is Dunkirk. This is 9/11. We have to rise to this occasion. But remember, political will is itself a renewable resource.

 □

Brexit Again

Martin Kettle

The departure next week of the UK from the EU will not get Brexit done. Brexit remains central to almost every important policy choice facing the government.
The bill that enacts withdrawal reneges on numerous earlier commitments. It says nothing about what happens next on Brexit. All the regulatory and trade issues are all still in play.
Boris Johnson must decide in June whether to extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020. He wants to move on and frame Brexit as finished business. But getting a deal with the EU is a major priority, more so than one with America.
The act of leaving the EU also confronts the government with big decisions on immigration policy, regulatory policy over sectors such as financial services, the future of agriculture and fishing, the place of human rights in Brexit Britain, and so on.
The Davos conference yesterday showcased the impact of Brexit. The UK is under pressure from the EU and the OECD to defer its planned digital services tax on US tech giants so that policymakers can hammer out an international system of controls.
Johnson aims to live up to his rhetoric by working independently of the EU to achieve an effective regime against the lawless tech companies. The UK cannot be seen to be bending the knee to Donald Trump, so Johnson is vulnerable US retaliation.
The debate about the UK place in the world and the kind of country it should be must go on.

 

2020 January 22

A Tale of Two Houses

BBC News 1754 UTC

The House of Commons has overturned all five amendments to the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill passed by the House of Lords, including one on unaccompanied refugee children being allowed to join relatives in the UK. The bill ensures the UK leaves the EU on January 31 with a deal.

 □

Senate Impeachment Trial

CNN

The Senate has approved rules for the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on a party-line vote that delays the question of whether the Senate should subpoena witnesses and documents until later in the trial. The rules resolution was approved 53-47 after Republicans defeated a series of amendments on the opening day of the impeachment trial. Democrats proposed 11 amendments seeking to subpoena a trove of documents from the Trump administration and from witnesses, but the amendments were thwarted almost entirely by the same party-line vote, 53-47.

 □

The Rule of Law

Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska

The EU is a community of law. Yet the populist governing parties in Hungary and Poland are flagrantly undermining liberal democracy. Respect for the rule of law is also declining in other member states, including Bulgaria, France, Italy, Greece, Malta, and Slovakia. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen proposes an annual report on the state of the rule of law across the EU.
 

2020 January 21

POTUS 46

The New York Times

In 2020, American voters must choose between three visions of the future. The incumbent president, Donald Trump, is clear about where he is guiding the Republican party. On the Democratic side, both the radical and the realist models warrant serious consideration. We are endorsing the most effective advocates for each approach.
Elizabeth Warren stands for the Democratic left. She speaks elegantly of how the economic system is rigged against all but the wealthiest Americans. She is also committed to reforming the fundamental structures of government and the economy. She speaks fluently about foreign policy, including how to improve NATO relations.
Amy Klobuchar stands for the Democratic center. She promises to put America on the path to achieve net-zero emissions no later than 2050. She pledges to cut childhood poverty in half in a decade. She wants to expand food stamps and overhaul housing policy. She promises a foreign policy based on leading by example.

 □

Europe and Brexit

Eric Jozsef

The exit of the UK from the EU is now imminent. Boris Johnson won his bet on the false promise that Brexit allows the British people to take back control. We continental Europeans made the mistake of imagining the issue was a solely British one.
When we approved Schengen and the single currency, we did so without the UK. Our missed appointments with history cannot be blamed on British resistance. Perhaps we might even have avoided Brexit if we had built a United States of Europe.
We stood by and watched Brexit happen. We ignored the threat that the Brexit poses to all European democracies. Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Donald Trump want nothing more than divided Europeans and the disintegration of the EU.
Difficult times lie ahead for our fragile democracies. The UK may return to the European family in due course. The British people who mobilised against Brexit showed how: Never in the history of the EU have we seen such popular demonstrations in favour of Europe.
Only a deeply integrated Europe will enable us to meet such global challenges as climate change, migration, regulation of financial capitalism, coordinated taxation of multinational companies, and channelling new technology.

 □

1917

Melanie Phillips

The First World War was a catastrophe. Sam Mendes focuses on a specific incident based on the experience of his own grandfather on the western front.
Two soldiers are sent on a mission to warn a unit poised to attack that it will be walking into a trap. The movie shows us war from behind their eyes. We see what they see, a landscape from hell.
The unemotional tone is stirring and powerful. These are two ordinary boys who just keep going. We see in them terror, courage, comradeship, loyalty, honour, compassion, self-sacrifice, and hope.
In our era of identity politics and victim culture, this movie is a reminder of emotional restraint and the obligations of duty and service to others.

AR Let us not sentimentalize the military virtues too far.
 

2020 January 20

Lord Defy Government

BBC News, 2014 UTC

HM Government has lost three votes in the House of Lords over its Brexit legislation:
1 Peers passed an amendment to give EU citizens in the UK the automatic right to stay and ensure
    they can get physical proof of their rights by 270 votes to 229.
2 Peers rejected a proposal to set aside European Court of Justice judgements by 241 votes to 205.
3 Peers rejected a proposal to protect UK courts from EU case law after Brexit by 206 votes to 186.
Ministers will aim to reverse the changes when the bill returns to the Commons.

 □

British Drama

The Times

 Hard MegxitClare Foges
No royal titles, no HRH, no public funding, no have cake and eat it, no half in and half out. The Queen insisted that the issue be thrashed out in days, not weeks. The royal family is not about its individual members. For a nation to feel like a coherent entity it needs its pomp and ceremony.

 Low TrustEd Williams
Britain is a country suffering a crisis of confidence. Politicians lie. Business is self-interested. CEOs get rich as staff lose jobs. Leaders create fear for political gain. National institutions fail the people. Trust in institutions to do the right thing is lower in Britain today than in anywhere but Russia.

 Race BigotryLibby Purves
The flight of the Sussexes from royal duty may prompt Britons to examine the terrible national dialog about racism. The Meghan coverage was mainly either fawning or snarky. The sickness lay in a determination to be offended. A squeamish discussion of racism soured into nonsense.
 

2020 January 19

A Very Stable Genius

Philip Rucker, Carol Leonnig

Two Pulitzer Prize winners provide the definitive insider narrative of Donald Trump's unique presidency. Their narrative reveals President Trump at his most unvarnished and exposes how decision making in his administration is driven by self-preservation and self-aggrandizement.

 □

Europe Looks Weak

The Observer

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen: "The EU needs to be more strategic, more assertive, and more united .. We must use our diplomatic and economic strength to support global stability and prosperity [and] export our values and standards."
Donald Trump ignored his EU allies when he assassinated Qassim Soleimani. When he blew up the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, he insisted that the EU3 trigger the deal's dispute mechanism and threatened to impose 25% tariffs on European car imports.
Europe is punching well below its weight.

 □

No Deal XO

Mail on Sunday

The Whitehall EU Exit Operations committee (XO) chaired by cabinet minister Michael Gove is preparing for a "disorderly December" 2020.
Sajid Javid: "There will not be alignment, we will not be a rule-taker, we will not be in the single market and we will not be in the customs union and we will do this by the end of the year."
Dominic Cummings: "[The EU] has failed to grasp their judges will have no power and we are not interested in level playing fields .. We are not bluffing on the no extension."

AR HMS Brexitannia is sailing from EUSSR to Trumpland with XO Gove at the helm.
 

2020 January 18

Ireland

Matthew Parris

The time is ripe to think about the unification of Ireland. A recent poll in NI gave a 51% to 49% win for unification. Only the over-65s showed a clear majority against. The younger the respondents, the more they opted for unification.
After Brexit, the GB economic habitat will begin to diverge from NI, which will remain aligned with the EU. Four years ago a poll in the Republic found a third of voters favoured unification. Last summer two thirds did. Moderates see the case for unity.
NI has been a test case for UK regional policy and failed. At around £12 billion net per year, NI costs UK taxpayers more than membership of the EU. Merging NI with the Republic will be painful, but it can be done.

AR Devolve NI to the Republic and dissolve GB in the EU/US.
 

2020 January 17

Trump Impeachment Trial

The New York Times

The Senate formally opened the impeachment trial of President Trump on Thursday. Senators swore to deliver "impartial justice" and installed Chief Justice John Roberts to preside over the proceeding. Roberts vowed to act "according to the Constitution and the laws" and administered the same oath of impartiality to the senators.

 □

Big Ben Bong Battle

The Telegraph

Thee battle for Big Ben to bong on Brexit night has descended into farce. After Boris Johnson called on the public to "bung a bob" for Big Ben to sound the moment Britain leaves the EU, more than £150,000 was raised on a crowdfunding site. But the House of Commons Commission says the money cannot be used due to parliamentary rules on financial donations.

AR Damn good thing too. A BBB for Brexit is a vulgar and insulting idea. They might as well go the whole hog and schedule a fly-by from the RAF Red Arrows and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight — plus a military parade along the Mall and a mass hoist of union jacks around the nation.
 

2020 January 16

Putin and Xi

CNN

Russian president Vladimir Putin has rearranged his government, apparently in order to stay in power for the foreseeable future. He may have been looking across to China, where his close ally Xi Jinping made the same power grab in 2018. Since Xi cleared the way to serve for life, the Chinese Communist Party has closed ranks around him and given him more titles, including one previously only held by Mao Zedong, that of people's leader.
 

2020 January 15

Panpsychism

Philip Goff

Panpsychists say consciousness pervades the universe. As we move to simpler forms of life, we find simpler forms of consciousness. The basic constituents of reality have the simplest.
Perhaps, at some point, the light switches off, and consciousness disappears. But perhaps the continuum of consciousness fades while never quite turning off. This is what panpsychists believe.
There is a deep mystery in how what we know from the inside fits with what science tells us from the outside. The panpsychist says there is a huge hole in our scientific story and puts consciousness in that hole. Consciousness is the intrinsic nature of matter.
Physical science describes matter from the outside. A neuroscientist asks about your consciousness while scanning your brain and correlate kinds of brain activity with various experiences.
We need both science and philosophy to get a theory of consciousness. Science gives us correlations. Philosophy explains them. In my view, the best explanation is panpsychism.

 □

Computing Neurons

Quanta

Networks of brain neurons can theoretically perform any computation. New research shifts the focus to individual neurons.
The thousands of inputs flowing into a given neuron land in different locations along its various dendrites. Individual dendrites can function differently from one another. Compartments in the dendritic arms of cortical neurons can each perform logic operations.
The dendrites generate local spikes, have their own nonlinear input-output curves, and have their own activation thresholds. They can act as AND gates.
Researchers obtained slices of brain tissue from layers 2 and 3 of the human cortex, which contain large neurons with many dendrites, and stimulated those dendrites with an electrical current. They saw repeated rapid and brief spiking. The spikes were like action potentials and arose from fluxes of calcium ions, not sodium or potassium ions.
A dendrite can spike in response to two separate inputs but not when those inputs are combined. This is equivalent to an XOR gate. Two dendrites together can compute XOR, and we see a plausible biophysical mechanism to do so in a single dendrite.
We need to rethink how we model the brain. It seems a single neuron can be a complex computational device.

Science reference
 

2020 January 14

Living Robots

The Guardian and The Evening Standard

Researchers have created the first living machines by assembling stem cells from frogs into tiny robots that can swim around freely.
Tufts University Allen Discovery Center director Michael Levin: "These are entirely new lifeforms. They have never before existed on Earth. They are living, programmable organisms."
The xenobots are designed by an evolutionary algorithm running on a supercomputer. They have frog genomes, are about 1 mm in size, and live for a week or so. In future they could swim around inside human bodies on medical missions or swim free to gather microplastic in the oceans.
Levin: "The aim is to understand the software of life."
The work was funded by DARPA and published in PNAS.

 □

Roger Scruton

Melanie Phillips

Sir Roger Scruton was Britain's greatest contemporary philosopher. The author of more than 50 books, he wrote about Kant and Wittgenstein, beauty and music, architecture and sexual desire, fox-hunting and piety, art and the rural idyll.
Sir Roger articulated and championed the deep connections between conservatism, the English countryside and national identity. He recognised that without a shared home and culture based on the inherited values, customs and laws of a nation state there can be no sense of "we" — conservatism was about the defence of collective memory and freedom.
In his 2014 book How to Be a Conservative, he recalled his astonishment when, witnessing the 1968 student riots in Paris, he realised that these radicals wanted to destroy freedom in pursuit of Marxism. He concluded that the political alternative was conservatism. But when he started teaching at London university, he discovered that all his colleagues opposed conservatism.
As the years went on, the totalitarian characteristics he had helped battle in eastern Europe surfaced in Britain under a different guise. The universities started openly suppressing ideas.

AR I was personally acquainted with Scruton when I was a student and he was a young lecturer, when he seemed too archly Tory to me. Since then, after reading the works of the philosopher Hegel, I have warmed to Scruton's brand of Conservatism.
 

2020 January 13

Academic Apocalypse

Ross Douthat

The humanities are collapsing. This is a new form of secularization. Once consecrated in place of Christianity, high culture is now experiencing its own crisis of belief as outside forces kill student interest in the humanities and cultural interest in high culture.
Recovery depends on more than a belief in truth and beauty. Either the humanities offer judgment on what is worth reading or humanists only teach procedures and habits of mind. Escaping that dichotomy alone will not restore the academic world.

 □

Brexit Bill

Graham Vanbergen

The 2019 version of the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill included a clause to protect MP involvement in Brexit. The 2020 WAB shuts MPs out of the negotiations: They will have no oversight over the negotiating goals or objectives, no right to be kept updated on progress, and no vote on any final deal with Brussels. The new WAB is a Trojan horse for hard Brexit at the end of 2020.

 □

Convoluted Computation

Quanta

Convolutional neural networks (CNNs) are good at learning patterns in 2D images. Gauge CNNs can detect patterns in 3D global climate data and on bumpy objects for robot vision and medical scans.
Physical theories often feature gauge covariance. Physical quantities are independent of frames of reference (gauges) or moving observers. Measurements convert to preserve the physics. Gauge CNNs do the same for data.
Convolution lets a layer of the CNN do an operation on small patches of the input data and pass the results to the next layer in the network. A CNN slides windows over the data like filters, with each one detecting a certain pattern.
In the case of a cat photo, a CNN trained to recognize cats uses filters that detect edges, which are passed up to other layers in the network, which do further convolutions to extract features like eyes or tails. The CNN can then label the image.
Doing a convolution on a curved surface (a manifold) is tricky because it distorts a flat window. A sliding window like a circular spiderweb avoids distortion, which lets a CNN work better and learn faster.
By 2018, CNNs could detect rotated or reflected features in flat images without training on them. Spherical CNNs could create feature maps from data on a 3D sphere without distortion.
Global climate data maps onto a 3D sphere. In 2017, a CNN trained to detect extreme weather patterns detected cyclones with 74% accuracy. In 2019, a gauge CNN did so with 98% accuracy.

AR Convoluted stuff.
 

Sandbanks

AR
My local seafront around noon, Sunday

Daily Mail

22 days

AKK
⦿ Jens Jeske
German defence minister
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer
faces attacks on her dress

 

2020 January 12

The Don

Niall Ferguson

According to CBS, Donald Trump's top three favourite movies are Bloodsport, Goodfellas, and
The Godfather. The Corleone doctrine is no joke, yet there may be worse figures to imitate than Vito Corleone. For who could be Michael, read Donald Trump Jr's bestseller Triggered.

 □

Remain

The Independent

A poll held 8-10 January finds that UK voters are split by margin of 52% to 48% in favor of Remain. Most responders expect Brexit to be bad for the economy, the NHS, and the UK's unity and standing. Only 11% backed a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020.
 

2020 January 11

Royal Soap Opera

Jonathan Freedland

If you think remain is a lost cause, you should try republicanism. Anyone who ever believed the Windsors might be easily prised from the public imagination, that Britons would be relaxed about dumping the royal family in favour of an elected head of state, has surely been divested of that delusion this week.
All this represents a double warning to advocates of a republic. First, after Brexit, the last thing anyone will want is a debate on more constitutional upheaval. Second, once the UK has left the EU, Britons will hold even tighter to those things that are uniquely or peculiarly British.

AR The Daily Mail yesterday devoted its first 16 pages to royal trivia.
 

2020 January 10

Iran Tragedy

The Guardian

The Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 that crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday was apparently shot down by an Iranian missile strike: Intelligence assessments suggest two SAMs hit the aircraft, killing all 176 people onboard.

AR Blame Trump for raising tensions with his drone strike.

 □

UK Breakup

David Edgerton

On Thursday, the EU withdrawal agreement bill passed its third reading in the Commons by 330 votes to 231. Soon it will be signed into law. The UK will leave the EU on January 31.
Brexit will impose a border between Northern Ireland and Britain for the first time in modern history. The policy is a betrayal of the Ulster unionists. Putting Northern Ireland into the same regulatory system as the Republic of Ireland puts a reunited Ireland firmly back in view.
In Scotland, the Scottish National Party holds 48 of Scotland's 59 seats in Westminster. In 2016, a large majority of Scots voted to remain in the EU. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has requested that the Scottish parliament be given powers to hold an independence referendum.
After Scotland and Northern Ireland, England and Wales could break up under pressure from Welsh nationalists. The breakup of the union may be one of the few good things to come out of Brexit.
Even England would benefit. Freed from the grip of the decayed British state, England could finally be done with its delusions of grandeur. It may have to give up its seat on the UN Security Council and its nuclear weapons. It may decide to rejoin the EU.
The UK is neither ancient nor stable. Before 1945, its four national identities were part of an imperial identity. A commonwealth of nations including India and the dominions and colonies made up the British Empire. It was the empire that fought WW2, not the UK. The postwar UK was broken up economically by globalization and deepening economic integration with Europe.
Decaying British nationalism led to Brexit. Leavers imagined independence would make the UK great again, but that was old thinking. Young people in England overwhelmingly want to be in the EU. They seek liberation not from Brussels but from the grip of Westminster and Whitehall.

AR Good: England can make a fresh start in Europe.
 

2020 January 9

Trump and Iran

Thomas L. Friedman

President Trump and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are two bald men fighting over a comb. Trump may think he can out-crazy the Iranians, but he will be constrained by US institutions. Iran can still "Carterize" Trump in a Mideast mess.

 □

Europe and Brexit

Financial Times

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen came to London to a pledge to "work day and night" on forging a close relationship with Fortress UK:
1 The negotiations will be dominated by disagreements over what policy commitments the UK is
    willing to make in exchange for market access.
    UvdL: "Without a level playing field on environment, labour, taxation and state aid, you cannot
    have the highest quality access to the world's largest single market."
2 It will be impossible to negotiate a complete deal and have it ratified by the end of this year.
3 A future relationship based on a trade deal will mean a hard border between the EU and the UK.
    UvdL: "Nothing will be as it was before."
 

2020 January 8

Attack

The New York Times

Trump tweet: "All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good!"

 □

Battle of the Brats

Arwa Mahdawi

The bearded halfwit known as Donald Trump Jr and his little sister Ivanka, patron saint of hypocrites, are rivals to succeed their father and turn the Trump presidency into a dynasty. A recent survey shows Ivanka and Trump Jr are favorites for the 2024 presidential nomination among Republican voters: 29% of GOP supporters want Lil' Don, 16% are rooting for the first daughter.

 □

Slaughter

The Times

UK PM Boris Johnson warns his cabinet it is "time for the slaughtering of sacred cows" as he vows to cull the pet projects of his predecessors.

 □

Battle of the Budget

Financial Times

PM adviser Dominic Cummings threatens to shake up the Ministry of Defence. A strategic defence review must set out where UK national interests lie and how they fit in to UK membership of NATO.
UK military ambitions are still laced with nostalgia for past glory. The UK is no pocket superpower, capable of dominance in every field from nuclear submarines to infantry power. It does not have the resources.
The two new Royal Navy aircraft carriers cost £6.2 billion and were delivered years late. HM Government cannot afford to buy 138 F-35 fighter jets for them. The navy urgently needs more frigates and destroyers to defend shipping, not symbolic aircraft carriers. The carriers could deploy US or French planes.
Cummings wants to shift investment to cyber security, drones, and space. But the UK will still need aircraft, tanks, and ships. The nuclear deterrent renewal program Dreadnought is vital to national security. Procurement must become more efficient.
Alliances are part of the future for a post-Brexit Britain — with Europe and with a maverick US president.

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Did Venus Strip Mercury?

New Scientist

Mercury may have been stripped by Venus in the early days of the solar system. A series of close passes between the two planets when they were young could have removed Mercury's outer layers, leaving behind a planet that is mostly dense core. Mercury's iron core makes up 70% of its mass, so something must have stripped away its mantle.
Perhaps young Mercury underwent a collision that melted its outer layers, but simulations show it may have been a series of near misses instead. If young Mercury was spinning in the right way, its mantle could have been removed by just four close encounters with young Venus. Mercury is roughly 10% the mass of Venus, and its mantle just a fraction of the whole mass, so the material would be hard to find on Venus.

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Will We See a Nova in 2083?

New Scientist

The binary V Sagittae in the constellation Sagitta has brightened exponentially over the last century and is due to become visible with the naked eye this century. V Sagittae is made up of a white dwarf and another star about 4 times more massive. As they orbit each other, plasma is pulled from the star onto the white dwarf and they get closer together. They will smash together in about the year 2083 — and will probably outshine every star in the night sky.
The work was presented at AAS 235.

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Neutron Star or Black Hole?

New Scientist

LIGO has detected gravitational waves from either the smallest black hole ever found or the largest neutron star. A neutron star with a mass of 1.1−1.7 M⦿ is colliding with a partner with a mass of 2.5 M⦿ — which could be a black hole.
The work was presented at AAS 235.
 

F-35A

USAF
Elephant walk of 52 F-35A aircraft (price tag $4.2 billion) before mass take-off from Hill AFB, Utah, Monday

BAND Wyss

 

2020 January 7

Iran Crisis

Financial Times

Germany and the UK aim to keep fighting ISIS following the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg: "A new conflict would be in no one's interests, so Iran must refrain from further violence and provocations."
E3 leaders Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, and Boris Johnson say they are "gravely concerned" about Iran's activities and criticize its decision to ditch core curbs on its nuclear energy program agreed under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
E3 leaders: "We call on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and responsibility. We specifically call on Iran to refrain from further violent action or proliferation and urge Iran to reverse all measures inconsistent with the JCPOA."
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo criticized European powers as "not helpful" enough.

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Insect Apocalypse

Patrick Greenfield

A call to action by more than 70 scientists from across the planet advocates immediate action on human stress factors to insects, including habitat loss and fragmentation, the climate crisis, pollution, over-harvesting, and invasive species. Human-driven insect extinction is causing a catastrophic collapse of natural ecosystems, with more than 40% of insect species declining and a third endangered.

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Twin Earth?

CNN

NASA mission TESS has found a potentially habitable exoplanet the size of Earth about 100 light years away. The planet is part of a planetary system around TOI 700, a cool M-dwarf star in the Dorado constellation. The star is about 0.4 M⦿ and 0.4 R⦿, with a surface temperature of 3 kK.
The planet, TOI 700 d, is one of three orbiting the star. It's at just the right distance to support liquid water on the surface in the star's habitable zone. Its discovery was confirmed using the IR capabilities of the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope.
TOI 700 d is the outermost of the three planets, completing one orbit around the star every 37 Earth days. From its smaller star, the planet gets about 86% of the energy Earth gets from the Sun. The planet is thought to be tidally locked to the star.
The other two planets in the system, TOI 700 b and c, are different. The innermost planet, b, is the size of Earth and rocky and orbits the star every 10 Earth days. The second planet, c, is a gaseous mini-Neptune and orbits every 16 Earth days.
The findings were announced at AAS 235 in Honolulu.
 

Su-57

www
Russian Sukhoi Su-57 fifth-generation fighters

Demi Rose
Instagram
Demi Rose

 

2020 January 6

Iran Breaks Out

David E. Sanger, William J. Broad

President Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement in May 2018. He justified his unilateral action by saying the accord was flawed, in part because its restrictions on Iran ended after only 15 years.
On Sunday, Iran declared those restrictions are over. This sounds the death knell of the agreement. The main US aim in the agreement was to keep Iran at least a year away from getting enough fuel to make a nuclear warhead.
The risk now is that uncertainties about how close the Iranians are to their first weapon will prompt calls in the United States and Israel to take military action.

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Putin Defends Stalin

Edward Lucas

Hitler and Stalin worked together to wipe Poland from the map. The deal between the two worst regimes in European history should live in infamy. The secret protocol of their non-aggression pact paved the way for the second world war and the Holocaust.
The pact created what Ronald Reagan later called the evil empire, but also doomed it. Protests on its 50th anniversary started the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now August 23 is a European day of remembrance for the victims of fascism and communism.
Vladimir Putin praises Soviet sacrifice in the struggle against Hitler and says Western deals with Hitler were the real disgrace. He wants world leaders to come to Moscow in May 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany. Don't go.
 

2020 January 5

Warning

Donald Trump

Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!

AR Only Putin can stop him now. Come on Vlad, send in fraternal forces to defend Iran.
 

2020 January 4

America v Iran

The New York Times

General Suleimani was a senior official of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Openly targeting him was a sharp escalation in the conflict between the United States and Iran. President Trump had previously demonstrated strong aversion to American involvement in the Mideast and contempt for intelligence from the region.
US defense secretary Mark Esper: "The game has changed."

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Christians 4 Trump

The Guardian

At the Evangelicals for Trump Coalition Launch at the King Jesus International Ministry, Miami, on Friday, Christians wearing red MAGA hats heard the word of the president and found it good.
President Trump: "My administration will never stop fighting for Americans of faith. We will restore the faith as the true foundation of American life."

AR Match of the century: Christianity versus Islam

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Snowflakes

Quanta

Kenneth Libbrecht studies the physics of snow: "It's a little embarrassing when stuff falls out of the sky, and it's like — why does it look like that? Beats me."
In a cloud, temperature and humidity vary, but they are as good as constant across a single snowflake, so snowflake growth is often symmetrical. But each snowflake is buffeted by changing winds, sunlight, and so on, so they tend to take on different forms.
Molecules of H2O tend to lock together to form hexagonal arrays that grow into 2D stars and plates when the edges grow outward quickly while the faces grow upward slowly. Libbrecht says molecular diffusion driven by surface energy determines how the crystal growth depends on the initial conditions and movements of the molecules.
Water vapor first settles on the corners of the crystal, then diffuses over the surface either to the edge or to its faces. The freezing water molecules form a rigid lattice, with each O atom surrounded by four H atoms. A flat crystal forms when the edges grow more quickly than the two faces. When its faces grow faster than its edges the crystal forms a needle or rod.
A complete model of ice growth dynamics will need more work.
 

Australia

⦿ Peter Parks
"The science of climate change has been ignored in Australia for decades. We are now seeing
the very worst of our scientific predictions come to pass."
Joëlle Gergis
 

Weirdos

UK PM Boris Johnson's chief
advisor Dominic Cummings
wants "super-talented weirdos"
to work with him to transform
government. He invites people
from maths, physics, or
computer science but not
"Oxbridge humanities
graduates" to apply.

AR Cummings is an Oxford
history graduate from
my old college.

EU

Betelgeuse
ESO

 

2020 January 3

Trump Kills Suleimani

The New York Times

A USAF MQ-9 Reaper drone strike authorized by US president Donald Trump killed Iran's top security and intelligence commander at Baghdad International Airport early Friday.
Major General Quassim Suleimani was the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force and the architect of nearly every significant operation by Iranian intelligence and military forces over the past two decades.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a statement: "His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands."
Trump said he does not want war: "I don't think that would be a good idea for Iran. It wouldn't last very long. Do I want to? No. I want to have peace. I like peace."

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A New Europe

Romain Leick

As a political project, the European Union has failed. The new European Commission president is faced with an existential crisis. Brexit is only the most dramatic symbol of decline and decay.
Under the pressure of the debt and refugee crisis, the EU states are moving at different speeds. Yet the ideas of French centralism continue to dominate the EU. Cherry picking is not allowed.
Unlike a truly democratic parliament, the European Parliament has no government and opposition factions. To democratize Europe, we need to add a common parliament to the common market and currency. Only then can the EU advance from a union of states to a sovereign union. We risk failure by exaggerating progress toward a community of values and a destiny of ever closer union.
The strength of Europe lies not in the pursuit of unattainable harmony but in the fair negotiation of conflicting interests. The ideal to preserve and cherish is that human dignity is inalienable. Europe can be a haven of humanity in a barbaric world.

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Germany 2020

Deutsche Welle

Berlin will take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in July 2020. German foreign minister Heiko Maas will push for a strong and sovereign Europe and call for a European security council to tackle foreign affairs and security issues.
The UK and the EU will have to agree on their future relationship during the German presidency. The EU will also have to agree on a financial framework for 2021−2027. With the departure of the UK, the EU loses a major net contributor.
 

2020 January 2

Europe First

Michael Sauga

All fairy tales must end. This also applies to Germany. A new story begins with the end of globalization, an economic cold war, and a new role for Europe.
World trade is slowing down. The fight against climate change makes trade more expensive. The United States and China are in a customs and technology war. Governments are putting up new barriers, isolating data networks, and regionalizing trade.
The WTO order is over. Ever since Donald Trump smashed the old laws and started one economic war after another, globalization now means winner take all. Everyone loses.
The two economic superpowers both want Europe on their side. But Europeans dare not fall for a US president who thinks their cars are a national security risk and their union a historic mistake. Nor should they accept a Chinese business model based on espionage and state control.
The right EU strategy is Europe First. EU governments should navigate between America and China and try to exploit their rivalry. This is the law of the jungle.
With its population of half a billion, the EU can be strong. But in the financial and banking sectors, in the digital economy and in many services, it is weak.
The UK wants to leave the EU. With only in or out, Brussels has nothing to offer countries like the UK, Turkey, Morocco, or Albania.

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Dracula

Christopher Stevens

On the first day of January, my TV gave to me — twelve nuns a-bleeding, eleven bats a-feeding, ten ghouls a-shrieking, nine corpses twitching, eight demons drooling, seven wolves a-howling, six crosses burning, five finger nails — four goblets of blood, three dead rats, two stakes through the heart, and a vampire baby in a bad mood.
Dracula (BBC1) was dripping with more gore than a raw hamburger marinated in pig's blood and garnished with an eyeball.

AR The mad nonsense of all that vampire lore left me reaching for a tome by Steven Pinker.
 

2020 January 1

Australia

David Marr

Another house reduced to a pile of ash. Rain is not expected until late January. The weeks ahead are looking tinder dry.
This summer in Australia puts residents in dread. The fires are not going out. Blazes are tearing through ancient forests that have never burnt before.
In Australia these days you can stare at the Sun. Take a good long look at that pink disc sinking in the murk. It has been dimmed by suffocating smoke.
Deep in cities, miles from the fire front, the smoke is so thick you can't see to the end of the street. On the beach, families sit in the smoke under a sky of flame, trapped between fires and the sea.
One of the duties of a leader is to find the words in times like these. But his words failed prime minister Scott Morrison: "We have faced these disasters before."
Morrison should speak truth to the world. It is time to demand effective action on climate change.

 □

Betelgeuse

The Times

Betelgeuse is a red supergiant and one of the brightest stars visible to the naked eye. It is about 8 million years old and is expected to go supernova in the next 100 000 years. With a mass of around 12 M⦿ and a radius of up to a thousand R⦿, Betelgeuse is 450−600 light years away from us and its death will light up our sky like the Sun. Astronomers report a significant dimming of the star in recent weeks. It may be about to blow.

 □

Quantum Worlds

Sean Carroll

Atoms have miraculous properties. Every time I put a cup on my table there is small chance it will fall through. It is extremely unlikely, but physically possible. In multi-world theory, everything that can happen does happen in one of myriads of universes.
These universes arise naturally when I solve the equations. When universes multiply, space splits itself up. It is like asking where our universe is located — it makes no sense.
Quantum physics describes atoms, but not gravitation. The general theory of relativity explains gravitation, but it fails at the atomic level. Only when we bring both theories together can we understand the extremes of the universe.
We must finally take multi-world theory seriously. Everything can be described solely by means of a wave: even our entire universe.
We can describe atoms as waves, but not yet macroscopic structures. Waves vibrate differently, depending on the nature of the space around them. My idea is to reverse this connection, so that if a wave vibrates in a certain way, it deforms space.
Space is just a way to understand how we talk about the universal wave. But it is an illusion. Down at the lowest level of the laws of nature, space disappears from the equations.
At the boundaries of space and time, our intuition fails. This is not surprising. In another universe, wiser scientists have surely written down the true laws of physics.

AR Something Deeply Hidden
 

BLOG 2019
Total eclipse

⦿ Jon Carmichael
Sun, Moon, Earth
 

33 days

The Benedict Option

As secular values take over
American life, many Christian
families are opting out of
mainstream society.
Rod Dreher calls it a retreat
from a new dark age:
"We're at the end of some-
thing important and profound,
and the beginning of some-
thing new and chaotic."

Solar eclipse
AP
Annular solar eclipse
over Asia and ME

Love EU

Keep America
NYT

Black hole
NASA

 

2019 December 31

Tempest in 2020

Financial Times

UK plans to develop a new stealth fighter jet will accelerate in 2020. Team Tempest — BAE Systems, the UK arm of Leonardo of Italy, European missile maker MBDA, and Rolls-Royce — have one year from today to complete their plan.
BAE Systems strategic campaigns director Andrew Kennedy: "We have to give the government confidence we are working towards a viable international partnership."
Tempest is the centrepiece of RAF combat air strategy after the UK was left out of a rival Franco-German future fighter project. It will replace the Eurofighter Typhoon, which will start to be retired from RAF service in about 2040.
Since Tempest was unveiled in summer 2018, Italy and Sweden have joined the team, while Spain has committed to the Franco-German fighter. Executives in both projects admit there will be pressure to merge the two projects.
The UK combat air sector made up over four-fifths of UK defence exports over the past decade.
 

2019 December 30

Trump Law

Noah Feldman

Donald Trump's impeachment marks just the third time in history that a POTUS has had to face trial in the Senate.
The first article of impeachment against Trump alleges that he "abused the powers of the Presidency" in that he "solicited the interference of a foreign government" in the 2020 presidential election and concludes that he "thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification" from future government service.
The charge of abuse of office for personal gain fits neatly into the sense of high crimes and misdemeanors familiar to the framers ligence effectively proves that there was a quid pro quo.
Trump abused his office merely by requesting the "favor" he mentioned in the telephone call. His defenders can say he did not seek personal advantage when he solicited the investigations and was concerned about corruption in Ukraine. This defense is unconvincing. If Trump sought personal advantage in the form of the announcement of the investigations, then his act of soliciting them was ipso facto an abuse of office. It does not matter that he could conceivably also have had a broader public interest in fighting corruption.
The second article of impeachment charges Trump with obstruction of Congress. If Trump's abuse of office for personal gain is the epitome of the conduct feared by the framers, his outright refusal to cooperate in any way with the House impeachment inquiry would almost certainly have taken them by surprise.
As a matter of basic constitutional logic, the only thing the House of Representatives can do when faced with presidential refusal to cooperate in impeachment is to impeach the president for that same act of obstruction.
If Trump is reelected after having been impeached, he may see himself as above the law.
 

2019 December 29

Science Under Attack

Brad Plumer, Coral Davenport

The Trump administration has diminished the role of science in federal policymaking and halted or disrupted research projects nationwide.
Political appointees have shut down government studies, reduced the influence of scientists over regulatory decisions, and pressured researchers not to speak publicly. The administration has challenged scientific findings related to the environment and public health opposed by industries such as oil drilling and coal mining.
Each year, the Trump administration proposes sweeping budget cuts at major federal agencies as the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation. Many top government appointees are former industry lobbyists. As regulations on industry are rolled back, officials begin questioning research findings.
At the EPA, political appointees often overrule EPA career experts. Staffing has fallen to its lowest levels in a decade, and the agency has cut academics from its science advisory board in favor of industry appointees. A proposal to limit regulators from using research unless all the data can be made public could prevent the EPA from using work based on confidential health data.
University of Texas at Austin law professor Wendy Wagner: "When we decapitate the government's ability to use science in a professional way, that increases the risk that we start making bad decisions, that we start missing new public health risks."
National Park Service scientist Patrick Gonzalez aims to protect national parks. He testified before Congress about the risks of global warming and co-authored a UN report on climate change. Shortly after testifying, his supervisor sent him a cease-and-desist letter.
Gonzalez: "I saw it as attempted intimidation."
 

2019 December 28

Nuclear Fusion

Clive Cookson

UKAEA is working on nuclear fusion reactors based on the tokamak design that holds a deuterium− tritium plasma in a toroidal reaction vessel with electromagnets while raising its temperature above 100 MK so that the nuclei fuse and release energy.
The UKAEA Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP), for which the government announced £220 million public investment last month, is a commercially driven project to construct a power plant by 2040.
A small British company, Tokamak Energy, aim to develop working commercial nuclear fusion reactors by 2030. Its SP40 reactor has heated plasma to 15 MK and its target is to generate fusion power by 2025 to go commercial by 2030. Investors have put £50 million into the company.
Another small British company, First Light Fusion, is pioneering a novel approach. It aims to initiate fusion by firing a hypersonic barrage of small copper projectiles into a tiny capsule containing deuterium and tritium. First Light expects to demonstrate early in 2020 that the system can work. Investors have put £25 million into the company.
UKAEA is assisting in the design and construction of ITER, a big fusion machine built by a global consortium of governments in southern France. Beset with delays and cost overruns — the current estimate is $22 billion — ITER is now set to start operating in 2025.
UKAEA chief executive Ian Chapman: "We will have fusion."
 

2019 December 27

Biology in 2019

John Rennie

Life and death
Researchers working on the isolated brains of pigs dead for hours reanimated the tissues well enough for the neurons to conduct electrical signals. Other cells in tissues on the path to dying return to life in a process called anastasis.

Brain maps
Our brains compile mental maps of our surroundings and our place in them. They use the same hexadirectional grid system for encoding relative positional information to keep track of abstract ideas and to order events in a memory timeline.

Attention and perception
Attention seems to point more mental resources at one sliver of our perceptions to concentrate on it, but in fact the brain focuses attention on part of its sensory field by filtering out the signals for the other parts. The brain screens out stimuli deemed less relevant and speeds up perceptions by anticipating likely stimuli.

The human genome
Human DNA from living people and from ancient populations show that modern humans did not migrate out of Africa just once 60,000 years ago but moved in and out of Africa many times. People today carry some Neanderthal DNA, and Neanderthals picked up more DNA from their ancestors.

Evolution
Complex eukaryotic cells appeared when prokaryotic host cells and symbiotic partners inside them formed a union. As the endosymbionts became organelles like mitochondria, their genes were absorbed into the host genome. Symbiosis made the cellular partners interdependent and led to compartmentalized functional structures.

Embryology
In an embryo, cells learn what kind of tissue to become by reading the concentrations of morphogenetic chemical signals around them. They decode the information from the signals with optimum efficiency to maintain control over their physiology.
 

2019 December 26

Science Made Progress

Laura Spinney

This was the decade that that reminded us science is just a method. It can be more or less rigorously applied, sabotaged, overrated, underrated, and ignored.
Physicists detected phenomena predicted long ago — gravitational waves, the Higgs boson — indicating that they are on the right track. NASA probes found towering ice mountains on Pluto and organic chemistry on Mars and a moon of Saturn. And thousands of exoplanets were discovered in the past 10 years.
Biologists honed an immunological defence mechanism found in bacteria, Crispr-Cas9, into a powerful gene-editing tool. They added several new ancestors to the human family tree and discovered traces of others. Very old DNA revealed that every person alive today is the product of multiple waves of migration.
Science was commandeered by all kinds of people with axes to grind. White supremacists held milk-chugging parties in America, supposedly designed to smoke out people of non-European heritage who can't digest lactose. Hindu nationalists claimed that the speakers of the original Indo-European language hailed from the Indian subcontinent.
Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui used Crispr to edit the genomes of twin girls — the first humans born with edited DNA they can pass on. Genetic testing is becoming mainstream. The first vaccine against Ebola was approved. Fear of vaccines has led to a global resurgence of measles.
Science funding has been slowly increasing in the world's richest countries. We should be glad to have the scientific method.

 □

Die Zauberflöte

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

This new production of Die Zauberflöte was staged at Glyndebourne by the director/designer duo Renaud Doucet and André Barbe in the summer of 2019. They freely updated it to a Viennese hotel in the early 1900s. Caroline Wettergreen stars as the Queen of the Night, while Ryan Wigglesworth conjures the sound of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

AR A charming production and a joy to experience last night on BBC4.
 

2019 Christmas Day

Love

Pope Francis

God continues to love us all, even the worst of us. You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you.

AR Loving our leaders is hard work.

 □

Bumpy

HM the Queen

The path, of course, is not always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small steps can make a difference. [..] By being willing to put past differences behind us and move forward together we honour the freedom and democracy once won for us at so great a cost.

AR HM obviously prefers UK-in-US over UK-in-EU. Hm.

 □

China

Nouriel Roubini

The United States and China have made a deal to prevent further escalation of their bilateral trade war. The deal is a temporary truce in a strategic rivalry. America regards the rise of China as a threat to its economic and national security.
The Sino-American relationship is shifting. Unfettered strategic competition will lead eventually from an escalating cold war to a hot war. Alternatives to a cold war involve cooperation in some areas and constructive competition in others.
Managed strategic competition with China requires engagement and cooperation with other countries. Western countries need to enact economic and political reforms. But the current US administration lacks strategic vision.

 □

Britain

Stefan Bielik

The new British government looks familiar to many Europeans. The Conservatives have pledged to look at the broader aspects of the constitution, including relations between the three branches of government. This parallels events in Poland and Hungary.
The EU limits constitutional meddling in Hungary or Poland. Their governments are too scared that Brussels may cut their funding and too aware of the huge popularity of EU membership to risk censure. The UK is now free from this sort of concern.
Britain is no longer special. Its government is starting to look like just another European autocracy. Institutions that run on gentlemen's agreements and convention are even more prone to abuse than those in central and eastern Europe.
 

2019 Christmas Eve

Trump

Paul Krugman

Many conservative American politicians only pretend to be Scrooges, when they're actually much worse — not mere misers, but actively cruel. This was true long before Donald Trump moved into the White House. What Trump has brought to his party is a new willingness to be openly vicious. We'd be in much better shape if Trump and company were merely heartless misers.

 □

Wind

Donald Trump

I never understood wind. I've studied it better than anybody I know.
I know windmills very much. They're noisy. They kill the birds. You want to see a bird graveyard? Go under a windmill someday. You'll see more birds than you've ever seen in your life.
They're made in China and Germany mostly. But [when] they're manufactured [the factories emit] tremendous fumes. Gases are spewing into the atmosphere.
You know we have a world, right? So the world is tiny compared to the universe. So [a] tremendous, tremendous amount of fumes and everything.
You talk about the carbon footprint, fumes are spewing into the air, right? Spewing. Whether it's in China, Germany, it's going into the air. It's our air, their air, everything, right?
You see all those [windmills]. They're all different shades of color. They're like sort of white, but one is like an orange-white. It's my favorite color, orange.
You know what they don't tell you about windmills? After 10 years they look like hell. They start to get tired, old.

AR Hail the Commander in Chief.
 

2019 December 23

A Culture War in the UK

Clare Foges

A culture war is convulsing the UK. Some say only the Conservative party will stand against the direction many wish to lead us in. If Labour wants to govern again in the next decade, those vying to lead the party must pay attention.
Consider how far we have come in the last decade. People who are still biologically male will soon be able to enter female hospital wards or prisons. The University and College Union says a person may self-identify as whatever race they choose.
Such stories have divided the UK into two camps. On one side we have the woke warriors, on the other the silent majority. The silent majority blame snowflakes for every liberal excess, the woke see racist gammons behind every injustice.
Life for many in the UK is made harder on account of their sex or race or sexuality. Where there is genuine bigotry and bullying, it must be confronted. But objective truth and biological fact should not be shoved aside.

 □

A Golden Decade for Physics

CNN

 Seeing a black hole
      In April 2019, astronomers released the first-ever picture of a black hole. The image reveals
     the supermassive black hole and its shadow at the center of galaxy M87.

Neutrinos
      In 2018, neutrinos were caught in the Antarctic IceCube detector. The neutrinos were traced
     to a galaxy with a supermassive, rapidly spinning black hole at its center, known as a blazar.

Water worlds
      In 2017, NASA announced new evidence that the most likely places to find life beyond Earth
     are Jupiter's moon Europa or Saturn's moon Enceladus.

Big collision
      In 2017, two neutron stars in a nearby galaxy were seen spiraling around each other until they
     collided, emitting gravitational waves. The kilonova forged and scattered heavy elements.

Gravitational waves
      In 2016, astronomers observed the gravitational waves from when two black holes merged.

The Higgs boson
      In 2012, LHC scientists announced the discovery of the Higgs boson. This was the last missing
     piece in the Standard Model of particle physics.

Thousands of planets
      Since 2009, the NASA Kepler mission has discovered 2,681 exoplanets in our galaxy. Up to half
     the stars we can see may have small, rocky, Earth-size planets within their habitable zones.

AR This is part of a longer golden age for science.
 

Midsommar

Midsommar teaser trailer

Boris Johnson
PA
His Brexit bill was
"oven ready"

Euler equations

Du/Dt = −∇w + g
∇·u = 0

 

2019 Winter Solstice

The Church

Science

Catholicism in Europe broke down extended kin-based institutions and encouraged a nuclear family structure.
The Church transformed European kinship structures during the Middle Ages. People from western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) populations tend to be more individualistic, independent, and impersonally prosocial, while revealing less conformity and in-group loyalty.
Diverse kin-based institutions have been the primary structure for organizing social life in most societies. With the origins of agriculture, cultural evolution increasingly favored intensive kinship norms related to cousin marriage, clans, and co-residence that fostered social tightness, interdependence, and in-group cooperation.
People's motivations, emotions, and perceptions are shaped by the social norms they encounter while growing up. Within intensive kin-based institutions, their psychological processes adapt to the collectivistic demands of their dense social networks. Intensive kinship norms reward greater conformity, obedience, and in-group loyalty.
Countries with longer historical exposure to the Church are more individualistic and independent, less conforming and obedient, and more inclined toward trust and cooperation with strangers. By 1500 CE, Europe was dominated by relatively independent and isolated nuclear or stem families.
Weird psychological patterns have been influenced by Church policies and institutions.

AR For a vivid depiction of a pagan European society in action, see the movie Midsommar.
 

2019 December 21

Europe Faces 2020

Luke McGee

Brexit has been a big headache ever since the UK voted to leave in 2016. In that time, the EU had to turn away from its other problems. Its member states are ignoring the rule of EU law, deviating from its standards on human rights, and denying press freedom.
In Poland, the national supreme court has warned the governing Law and Justice party that its proposed judicial reforms could get Poland booted out of the EU. The proposed reforms ignore the EU requirement that courts act independently of government.
In Hungary, the prime minister has presided over a decade of assaults on the national courts, academic institutions, central bank, and press. Croatia, Greece, and Bulgaria face criticisms of their tight press controls. Europe faces a crisis over trust on values and law.
EU members are overseen by the European Court of Justice. National courts are expected to respect European law. But the EU is a small bureaucracy that depends on national judges and national civil servants and cannot interfere directly in national domestic politics.
Eurasia Group director Mujtaba Rahman: "Brexit was a team-building exercise where the EU could demonstrate how united they were. But it was really something of a cover to disguise how little they agree on the bigger challenges facing the continent."
 

2019 December 20

Brexit: MPs Back Bill

BBC News, 1435 UTC

MPs vote by 358 to 234 to back Boris Johnson's Brexit bill to leave the EU on 31 January 2020.

 □

Britain: A Lost Soul

BBC News, 1149 UTC

Wera Hobhouse, the German-born Lib Dem MP for Bath, is a passionate defender of the EU. She concedes the "battle for Brexit is over" but says her opposition to leaving the EU has not melted away. On a personal level, she says she "feels different about the country" she calls a "lost soul" after the events of the past few years, and adds that the "relentless rhetoric and hostile environment" over freedom of movement has caused "deep wounds" that will not heal easily.

 □

Greed Is Dead

Paul Collier

Economic Man was greedy, lazy, and selfish. He only worked if incentivized by material benefit. His baleful influence destroyed job satisfaction.
Economic Man is a travesty. Economic theorems describe how a society of psychopaths could function. Real human beings have evolved for morality and ethical behavior.
The human capacity for social learning has expanded the stock of knowledge transmitted through culture and education. People of high status spread behavior via their opinions.
Emulation amplifies our hardwired prosocial instincts. The most prestigious figures in a group are commonly modest and generous, so others emulate modesty and generosity.
Economic and technological shocks have created big winners whose behavior is influential. These winners turn into Economic Men whose repellent norms prevail.
CEOs became Economic Men. They claimed moral superiority with values that alienated fellow citizens. Socially purposive business conflated purpose with profit.
Economics linked rationality with selfish greed and told CEOs to take pride in these values. Economics must become a human science.

 □

Fluid Singularities

Kevin Hartnett

The Euler equations describe an idealized fluid. Information about points in a fluid, including velocity and vorticity, forms a velocity field. Feed the equations with an initial velocity field, and they predict how it evolves over time.
The equations do not describe a real-world fluid. They include several nonphysical assumptions, such as incompressibility and zero viscosity. Under some circumstances, the equations blow up and predict singularities.
Tarek Elgindi considered a simplified model. Consider a tank of water with two thick rings of water at opposite ends, like eddies or whirlpools. When the rings approach each other, they attract, and the inner parts of the rings pull with greater force than the outer parts.
The rings elongate like funnels. As their centers get closer, their speeds increase until they crash. Elgindi proved that the Euler equations predict infinite vorticity at the point of collision.

AR No big surprise.
 


AP
HM the Queen delivers a speech to parliament about what her government will do for the second time in 10 weeks.

AR This is a workplace for political leaders. Protestants disdain such historical bling even in a place of worship.
I recommend a wholesale update of British politics.

King Trump

Cheops
ESA
Cheops

3 nations
AR
Brexit Britain

Afghanistan
The Observer
US dysfunction in Afghanistan

Feynman diagram

 

2019 December 19

UK Funding Crisis

Financial Times

The British armed forces face a funding crisis that threatens to ground aircraft and restrict support deployments. A critical shortfall in the 2020 defense budget of about £1 billion is exacerbated by financial commitments such as the F-35 fighter jets and the new fleet of Astute-class submarines.

AR Post-imperial overreach. Face facts, cut the crazy cost commitments, and admit the UK no longer punches above its weight. Dump the boxing metaphor and commit instead to becoming a peace-loving union of nations that seeks only friendship and harmony with its neighbors.
 

2019 December 18

Trump Impeached

The New York Times

On Wednesday evening, the House of Representatives impeached the president of the United States. A magnificent and terrible machine engineered by the founders, still and silent through almost all of American history, has for only the third time in 231 years shifted into motion.
The nihilism of this moment — the trashing of constitutional safeguards, the scorn for facts, the embrace of corruption, the indifference to historical precedent and to foreign interference in US politics — is due principally to cowardice and opportunism on the part of Republican leaders.
Republican lawmakers competed with one another to invoke the most outlandish metaphor of evil — from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ — and suggest that Trump is enduring even worse.

Trump Sick Note

The New York Times

President Donald Trump wrote a six-page letter to House speaker Nancy Pelosi protesting the impeachment proceedings. Here is an annotated copy.

We Are Republicans, and We Want Trump Defeated
George T. Conway III, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, Rick Wilson

Patriotism and the survival of our nation in the face of the crimes, corruption and corrosive nature of Donald Trump are a higher calling than mere politics. As Americans, we must stem the damage he and his followers are doing to the rule of law, the Constitution and the American character.

 □

Tory Problem

Daniel Finkelstein

The problem with the Tory alliance in this election is that it depends on groups that will shrink with time — older, whiter and less qualified than tomorrow's population. Maybe the right decision is to appeal as the party of open markets and liberalism and an outward looking, educated middle class, helping the vulnerable by making Britain prosperous. Maybe that is the future.

AR Daniel was offering advice to Labour, but the "right decision" applies more aptly to his fellow Conservatives, who should reconsider their misconceived opposition to the EU.

 □

Cheops

European Space Agency

Cheops lifted off from the ESA spaceport at 09:54 CET on 18 December. Signals from the spacecraft at 12:43 CET confirmed the launch had succeeded.
 

2019 December 17

Cheops

European Space Agency

The ESA Characterising Exoplanet Satellite Cheops is the first mission dedicated to studying bright nearby stars that are already known to host exoplanets. It will focus on planets in the super-Earth to Neptune size range, and will make high-precision observations of their size in order to derive the bulk density of these alien worlds.
The mission is scheduled to launch today from the ESA Kourou site in French Guiana. A Soyuz-Fregat launcher will put the satellite into a Sun-synchronous, dusk-dawn orbit 700 km above Earth. The satellite is 1.5 m in size, with a mass of 280 kg and a 1.2 Gbit/day data downlink.

 □

Nuclear Power

Steven Pinker

When we think of nuclear power, we immediately think of Chernobyl. In the Chernobyl accident, 31 people died and several thousand or maybe even ten thousand people died of cancer. But coal kills well over half a million people every year by causing respiratory ailments or cancer.
We underestimate how many people die when a dam breaks, or who fall from roofs while installing solar cells. Nuclear power is the safest source of energy we have that can also supply large cities with energy day and night.
Humans have difficulties dealing with risks. We prefer to eliminate a single small risk entirely rather than reduce overall risk. We see that with the fear of flying, where we issue increasingly stringent safety regulations for aircraft. But the chance of dying in a car is much higher per km traveled.
Obstacles to the final disposal of nuclear waste are more political than technological. Part of the waste can probably be reused in next-generation reactors. Global warming will pose a much greater threat to our children and grandchildren than our nuclear waste.
 

2019 December 16

UK Democracy

Electoral Reform Society

AR UK prime minister Boris Johnson won the election with a "thumping" parliamentary victory.
Yet relative to 2017, the Lib Dem vote rose by 1.3 million, the Labour vote fell by 2.6 million,
and the Conservative vote rose by only 304,000.
Votes per MP in 2019:

Greens
865,697

Lib Dem
336,038

Labour
50,835

Conservative
38,264

SNP
25,882

I live in a sham democracy.
 

2019 December 15

Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

President Donald Trump abused the power of his office by strong-arming Ukraine to help him influence the 2020 election. When caught in the act, he rejected the very idea that a president could be required by Congress to explain and justify his actions.
From the articles of impeachment: "President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law."
Trump has been committing arguably impeachable offenses since the moment he entered the Oval Office, including his acceptance of foreign money at his many businesses and his obstructions of justice in the Russia investigation.

 □

The Battle for Europe

Timothy Garton Ash

Leaving the EU will cause the UK to be weaker and poorer, as well as wrecking it as a unified state.
Under Boris Johnson's deal, Northern Ireland will be in a different economic and legal space from England, Scotland, and Wales. NI will probably remain constitutionally part of the UK for some time, but it will become ever more integrated with the republic of Ireland.
Scotland voted as emphatically for the SNP as England did for the Conservatives. Nicola Sturgeon will press for Scotland to leave the British union and rejoin the European one. Obstructing a second Scottish referendum will make Scots more likely to vote for independence when they can.
A final dissolution of the union is not inevitable. But now is the time to start fighting the battle of England. An independent England can be a strong European country.
The battle to keep the UK in the EU is lost. The battle for a European England has only just begun.

AR The UK is toast. Long live England.

 □

The Virtue of Nationalism

Yoram Hazony

Nationalism is not some unfathomable political illness that periodically takes over countries for no good reason and to no good end. It is a principled standpoint that regards the world as governed best when nations are able to chart their own independent course, cultivating their own traditions and pursuing their own interests without interference. This is opposed to imperialism, which seeks to bring peace and prosperity to the world by uniting mankind under a single political regime.

AR Nationalism is a kind of imperialism. Any nation includes minorities, regions, dissidents, and so on, all of whom find only token expression in a typical national polity. Ethnic and linguistic divisions are the most reliable national identifiers, but few modern nations carve anywhere near those joints.
My own idiolect and genome are unique. I see no reason to accept rule by otherwise endowed potentates in a distant capital city that does not bind me also to accept rule from other cities in other ways. The nation that accommodates me is just one among many nations on Earth. All of them contribute in their own ways to defining my unique identity.
Rationality rules, not nationality.
 

2019 December 14

A New Trade Era

Peter S. Goodman

Getting Brexit done marks a profound change in the world trading system. A new trade deal between the United States and China is another mark of a new era.
President Trump imagines the scale of the US economy gives him the advantage in any bilateral trade negotiations. He thinks multilateralism is for suckers. For him, America First means weaponizing international trade.
Chinese leaders see trade hostilities as part of an American campaign to suppress their national aspirations and deny the country its rightful place as a superpower.
Brexit Britain aims to at secure bilateral trading arrangements with major economies worldwide. But Britain sends nearly half of its exports to the EU. No new trade deals are likely to compensate for walking away from the European single market.
The rise of nationalist imperatives is driven by public anger over widening economic inequality. In Britain, the 2016 referendum that triggered Brexit became a protest vote against the bankers whose financial crisis led to a decade of austerity.
Economists see perils in this unfolding era. It is the biggest upsurge of economic nationalism in generations.

AR This may be a necessary — but painful — phase before the globalization of politics we need to regulate big corporations, the internet, the global legal and fiscal order, the human response to the climate crisis, and the development and release of cultivars.

 □

Crime Warning

Edward Luce

A Warning, a book by Anonymous, relates how Donald Trump reacts to anyone trying to keep a record of meetings. "What the fuck are you doing?" the US president asks. "Are you fucking taking notes?" Staffers take this as a sign that he is about to ask his lawyers to do something unethical. It is a regular event in the White House.
Crime In Progress, by Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, is the most convincing case you are likely to read that the US president is an asset of the Russian government. Robert Mueller chose not to look into Trump's taxes, his ties with Russian money, or allegations of money laundering, yet recorded more than 140 contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Commissioned in 2015, Fusion GPS found Trump had done business with 25 individuals or companies with documented mob ties over the years. The length of his litigation record dwarfed anything they had ever seen. Trump owed the revival of his commercial fortunes to a "conduit of cash from the former Soviet Union into his various stumbling enterprises" — much of it thought to have come from Russian banks close to the Kremlin.

 □

Black Holes Warm Active Galaxies

Charlie Wood

Active galaxies make surprisingly few stars. As their hot clouds radiate X-rays, their gas should cool and clump together, forming stars. It seems the supermassive black holes in the galaxies warm the gas via long jets expelled from the poles of the holes.
Yuan Li and her team found evidence that turbulence spreads the jet energy. Turbulence occurs when bigger swirls break up into smaller swirls in a cascade that passes energy down to particle level. It can explain how active galaxies keep warm.

 □

Spin and the Laws of Nature

Natalie Wolchover

The laws of physics largely dictate one another through their mutual consistency. Consider how elementary particles with different amounts of spin, or intrinsic angular momentum, can consistently behave. We rediscover the four fundamental forces of nature.
A particle's spin reflects its underlying symmetries. A spin 1 particle returns to the same state after being rotated by one full turn. A spin 1/2 particle must complete two full rotations to come back to the same state, while a spin 2 particle looks identical after half a turn. Elementary particles can only carry 0, 1/2, 1, 3/2 or 2 units of spin.
Spins constrain simple particle interactions. Momentum must be conserved. Locality dictates that particles scatter by meeting in spacetime. Unitarity says the probabilities of all possible outcomes add up to 1. These conditions on the equations lead to solutions.
The photon is the massless spin 1 particle of electromagnetism. For such a particle, the equation describing four-particle interactions has no viable solutions. Photons do not scatter off each other, but they can participate in interactions involving other types of particles. These constraints lead to Maxwell's equations.
Gluons convey the strong force. They are also massless spin 1 particles, but they come in multiple colors. Gluons can satisfy the four-particle interaction equation and self-interact in glueballs. Constraints on the self-interactions lead to quantum chromodynamics.
Mass arose when a symmetry broke and the value of the Higgs field went from zero to a positive number. Massive spin 1 particles called W and Z bosons convey the weak force.
For spin 2, the solution to the four-particle interaction equation looks beset with infinities. But the interaction can go three different ways, and the infinities cancel, permitting a solution.
The graviton is a spin 2 particle that couples to itself and all other particles with equal strength, leading to the equivalence principle of general relativity.
Symmetry constraints on particle interactions explain the existence of the strong and weak forces and the forces of electromagnetism and gravity.
Many different spin 0 particles are possible. The only known example is the Higgs boson. Hypothetical spin 0 particles called the inflaton may have inflated the universe.
Spin 1/2 particles make up what we call matter. Our universe contains both spin 1/2 quarks that interact with gluons and photons and spin 1/2 neutrinos that interact with neither.
The spin spectrum stops at 2. Spin 3/2 particles exist only if supersymmetry is true.

AR Spin is important.
 


 

BBC
 

Boris Johnson
PA

 

2019 December 13

Conservative Duty

Financial Times

The Conservative landslide vindicates Boris Johnson's strategy of going all-out for a new Brexit deal, then building his campaign around delivering it. He now has a decisive mandate to take the UK out of the EU on January 31. His majority frees him from being held hostage by the ERG and the DUP. He has an opportunity to pivot and pursue a closer future relationship with the EU. He should take it.

AR I await his Damascene conversion eagerly.

 □

Labour Collapse

Polly Toynbee

Labour was disastrously, catastrophically bad. Jeremy Corbyn should have gone before dawn. He is a man without any qualities required of a leader. He did the UK profound, irreparable harm. Had he led his party and the unions against Brexit, Remainers could have won the 2016 referendum.

AR Labour has lost its heart and soul.

 □

Lib Dem Error

Philip Collins

Leavers should thank Jo Swinson. It was only when the Liberal Democrats decided to abandon the Remain alliance, which had Boris Johnson trapped in parliament, that his election became possible. Her policy to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit without a second vote was a mistake.

AR Her reward was to lose her seat.

 □

Local Results

Daily Echo

The count for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole was held at Bournemouth International Centre.
The result was a clean sweep for the sitting Conservatives:
 Sir Christopher Chope MP for Christchurch
 Tobias Ellwood MP for Bournemouth East
 Conor Burns MP for Bournemouth West
 Michael Tomlinson MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole
 Sir Robert Syms MP for Poole

AR Politics in Dorset are almost feudal.

 □

German View

Jörg Schindler

From his first days in office, he lied to his country and his queen. He reacted to opponents in his party by throwing them out. He ridiculed parliament and threatened the media.
Now he promises the people pie in the sky. And the people voted for him. Boris Johnson has triumphed in a way no Brit has triumphed since Margaret Thatcher in 1987.

AR After the 1987 election I moved to Germany.
 

People's government

⦿ Dylan Martinez / Reuters
Boris Johnson on the last day of his election campaign

UvdL

 

2019 December 12

European Green Deal

Ursula von der Leyen

Humanity faces an existential threat. Forests burn from America to Australia. Deserts are advancing across Africa and Asia. Rising sea levels threaten our European cities as well as Pacific islands. Science tells us we are running out of time.
The European Green Deal will cut emissions while also creating jobs and improving our quality of life. It will drive new economic opportunities. We will deliver a sustainable European investment plan, supporting €1 trillion of investment over the next decade.
The European Green Deal is a contribution to a better world.

 □

About Time

Carlo Rovelli

Loop quantum gravity (LQG) aims to combine general relativity (GR) and quantum mechanics (QM). GR says space is a flexible shell around us. QM says every field of this kind has a granular structure.
The central result of LQG is that space is made up of grains. These are linked in a network of relations that weaves space like chain mail. Space is created by linking these quanta of gravity.
Just as the idea of a continuous space disappears, so the idea of primal time flowing regardless of things also vanishes. Elementary processes cannot be ordered in a single time line.
There is no longer space that contains the world or time in which events occur. The illusion of spacetime continuing around us is a blurred vision of swarming elementary processes.

AR We and the world emerge from eternity.
 

Person of the Year
 

"President Trump not only
should be impeached, he
must be impeached if
America's democracy
is to remain intact."
Thomas L. Friedman

Get stuffed

Gorecki
⦿
Henryk Gorecki
Symphony No.3, Op.36
(Symphony of Sorrowful Songs)
Zofia Kilanowicz, soprano
Polish National Radio
Symphony Orchestra
Antoni Wit

"I believe that leaving the
European Union is the worst
foreign policy decision in my
lifetime. It will affect nearly
every aspect of our lives for
many decades to come and
it will make our country
poorer and weaker."
Sir John Major

Lucy in the Sky
FOX

Spitfire
Telegraph
Silver Spit flies
around the world

 

2019 December 11

Brexit Trade Deal

Michel Barnier

With regard to a post-Brexit trade agreement, we will not get everything done in 11 months. We will do all we can to get the vital minimum to establish a relationship with the UK, if that is the time scale. We will have a few months to achieve the minimum necessary for the economy and security or to prepare for a cliff edge for trade.

 □

The Afghanistan War

Ben Armbruster

The war in Afghanistan is a lost cause. The Afghanistan Papers detail how US officials deliberately misled the public on progress. American leaders knew they could not win.
The United States has so far doled out nearly $1 trillion for the war in Afghanistan. Everyone is on the take, from defense industry executives and lobbyists to Afghan government officials and poppy farmers to anyone and anything in between.
The Pentagon budget allocates huge amounts in unnecessary appropriations resulting in hundreds of billions of dollars in waste, fraud, and abuse. Yet Congress continues to throw more and more money at the defense department every year.
The Afghanistan Papers clearly show that a lot of people were killed, injured, and subject to years of psychological trauma and financial hardship for nothing.

 □

Person or Pig?

Jim Holt

Pigs, so far as we know, are conscious. They have inner experiences, just like us. Perhaps they are even conscious of their own existence.
The memory young children share with other animals is episodic. It enables them to learn from experience. Autobiographical memory develops much later in human children.
When you summon up an autobiographical memory, you engage in a kind of mental time travel. You identify your current remembering self with your past experiencing self. Autobiographical memory lets us understand ourselves as beings whose existence extends over time.
The capacity emerges in us at about the end of our preschool years. But only in our adolescence do we come to string together our autobiographical memories into a coherent life chronicle.
A pig has a synchronic self in the here and now. But a human can develop a diachronic self that extends over time. That may be why it is better to be a human than a pig.
Putting together a diachronic self is hard work. Autobiographical memory supplies the raw materials for building a self. It is up to us to do the work.
People say they want to be happy. They want their needs filled. They want their life to be enjoyable from moment to moment, like pigs.
But people also want their lives to be meaningful. Activities that increase meaning can reduce happiness, and vice versa. Raising children reliably diminishes happiness, both from moment to moment and on the whole, but people say children give meaning to their lives.
Happiness and meaning are our two masters. We sometimes sacrifice happiness for meaning, and we sometimes sacrifice meaning for happiness.
Autobiographical memory gives us the stuff to weave a narrative in which we star in our own story. Friedrich Nietzsche: "We want to be the poets of our lives."
To will one's own individuality, say Nietzscheans, is to become something new. Adolf Hitler might well have looked back affirmatively on his decision to fight for the Thousand Year Reich. Harry Frankfurt: "Immoral lives may be good to live."
Platonists say a meaningful self-narrative must be an ascent of desire toward a transcendent and timeless Good.
 

2019 December 10

Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

New York Democrat Representative Jerrold Nadler: "Today, in service to our duty to the Constitution, and to our country, the House Committee on Judiciary is introducing two articles of impeachment charging the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, with committing high crimes and misdemeanors."

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America: The Facts

CNN

With its meddling operation in 2016, Russia set Americans against one another, fanning divisions and undermining confidence in US democracy. Without agreement in Washington on common facts or goodwill between political adversaries, an honest assessment of President Trump's actions is impossible. America may never heal from the recriminations and infectious doubts that stained the last presidential election.

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Extinction 2071

Jeff VanderMeer

In the past two decades, biotechnological advances saved our planet from a climate crisis that would have destroyed us. Our triumph is overshadowed by a new threat. We risk being destroyed by the organisms that saved us.
The application of biotechnology to the climate crisis began in 2048. This effort to direct the power of biotechnology was enabled not only by organisms that devoured carbon and plastic but also by cultivars that reduced extinction rates among wild animals and trees.
But we ignored the dangers of what we created. Whether we were affixing an ear to a mouse or growing miniature chimp brains in ostrich bodies and then putting those brains into dinosaurs, we did not want to think too much about these animals. We abandoned the moral high ground.
Today, a bluebird is a bioengineered surveillance camera drone. Our biotech is ubiquitous, and it is manipulating us and experimenting on us. Our haphazard engineering of such creatures has given them a form of autonomy we do not understand.
Hacking haunts all of our biological transactions these days. We have already lost sex, but we cannot avoid contamination even when we breathe. We no longer know what we are, because we are so different.
 

2019 December 9

Der Steinmeier-Formel

Spiegel Plus

Heute trifft Wolodymyr Selenskyj, der jetzige Präsident der Ukraine, mit dem russischen Präsidenten Wladimir Putin in Paris. Frankreich und Deutschland wollen, dass endlich wieder Bewegung in den festgefahrenen Friedensprozess kommt.
Dafür war der neue ukrainische Präsident bereit zu einem Kompromiss. Die von prorussischen Separatisten kontrollierten Regionen im Osten des Landes, die sogenannten Volksrepubliken Luhansk und Donezk, sollen einen Sonderstatus bekommen. Im Gegenzug werden in den Gebieten lokale Wahlen abgehalten. Kiew würde durch die Wahlen ein Stück Souveränität über die Gebiete im Osten des Landes zurückgewinnen, die prorussischen Separatisten bekämen über den Sonderstatus eine föderale Selbstverwaltung zugesichert.
Der Urheber dieser Lösung ist Frank-Walter Steinmeier, einst Außenminister, heute Bundespräsident. In Berlin und Paris wird der Durchbruch der "Steinmeier-Formel" als Erfolg der deutschen Diplomatiekunst gefeiert
.
 

2019 December 8

A Dangerous Charlatan

The Observer

Boris Johnson's record in office is dire. His Brexit withdrawal agreement paves the way for, at best, a bare-bones free trade relationship with the EU. He would take us into the abyss.
On Thursday, voters have the chance to strip power from a dangerous charlatan. We urge voters to deny Johnson the opportunity to wreak existential damage on the UK.

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England's Last Roar

Pankaj Mishra

The England of entrenched privilege and extreme inequality, of archaic political and social structures and an economy geared to enriching the rich, has sunk to nihilistic self-destruction with Brexit.
Englishness was always a form of theatre, first staged in overseas colonies. Today, in a post-imperial Britain run by half-witted public schoolboys, the English character is exposed as an imperial pose of masculine authority and racial superiority.
Enoch Powell was a lower middle-class native of the West Midlands who became a professor of classics at Cambridge, taught himself fox-hunting, and exulted in the hierarchies of empire in India. He came to develop a certain rather fierce idea of England and its destiny.
To be English in multiracial England after 1945 was to know a devastating loss of manliness. For Powell, the appearance on English streets of the savages against whom Englishness had been defined on the imperial frontier was just too much. In his 1968 "rivers of blood" speech, he said: "In this country in 15 or 20 years' time, the black man will have the whip hand over the white man."
The temptation to hold foreigners and immigrants responsible for decline and stagnation was strong in England as postwar economic growth tapered off. English identity was always little more than a theatrical performance of brute power abroad by men of the imperial ruling class. Powell defined it against emasculating foreigners.
Powell also invested his zeal in Europhobia: "Belonging to the common market spells living death, the abandonment of all prospect of national rebirth, the end of any possibility of resurgence."
Powellism steadily built up to its present apotheosis in Brexit through the Thatcher−Blair years of deregulation and privatisation, immigration issues, tabloid journalism, and Tory EU-baiting.
As Boris Johnson never tires of repeating: Get Brexit Done. A dose of hard Brexit, he suggests, will toughen the national mind and body for the bracing climb to the sunny uplands of Empire 2.0. Like Powell, he presents himself as the saviour of England's peerless destiny.
 

2019 December 7

Will Brexit Destabilize Europe?

David Keys

University of Glasgow professor Beatrice Heuser: "[The] general election is almost completely ignoring the absolutely crucial European stability and security element of the ongoing Brexit debate .. reduced levels of European solidarity, increased levels of economic and political rivalry, and increased levels of nationalism .. pose a threat to everyone [in] Europe."
Areas in and around the EU where stability could unravel if Brexit weakens the union include central Romania, Bosnia, Kosovo, the eastern Aegean, southern Bulgaria, Ukraine, the Moldova area, the area around Cyprus, the Baltic states, Belarus, Kaliningrad, Catalonia, and Flanders.
Brexit will change the political balance within the EU. It will increase the economic centrality of Germany, accentuate differences between France and Germany, and increase divisions between southern and northern Europe. Divisions within the EU and tensions between the EU and America could also weaken NATO.
Ethnicity and history are increasingly being used by EU member states and others to increase their influence in neighbouring EU nations and other countries. A weaker or politically more divided EU may well accelerate that process.
Over the past 500 years, war has dominated the European continent for a total of 300 years. Thanks to the EU and NATO, Europe has lived in relative peace for the past 75 years. If we exclude those decades from the calculations, about two-thirds of the period 1500 to 1945 was scarred by major wars in which millions of Europeans died.
Armed conflict has been the single largest cause of death for young Britons over the past 106 years. Almost half of all deaths of UK men aged 18 to 34 in that period have been as a result of war.
Oxford Brookes University professor Roger Griffin: "We have entered a new era of ideological and political conflict .. I fear that .. Brexit could well further embolden the forces of right-wing populism in Europe and weaken visions of a stable continent, based on a common European identity."
The British empire lured Britain into not seeing itself as a European power. The Commonwealth and the Anglosphere still lead those who dream of the past to turn their backs on the mainland.
Before WW1, Britain focused on its empire and neglected any major role in Europe. Britain was strong militarily outside Europe and on the high seas, but Germany saw it as a minor player in continental Europe.
Before WW2, Britain sabotaged moves toward greater European cooperation and let Germany dominate Europe. It stayed out of the Spanish civil war and acquiesced in the German occupation of Austria and Czechoslovakia.
Oxford University professor Timothy Garton Ash: "The fact that .. Britain, Germany and France are all members of the EU has helped Europe to function in a stable way for many decades. Removing the UK from that triangular relationship is likely to change the delicate balances between member states and to ultimately weaken the union .. the UK may be tempted to try to divide and rule in Europe, thus further weakening the continent."
 

2019 December 6

Brexit Trade Caution

The Guardian

EU member states will not be bounced into Boris Johnson's fast-track timetable to strike a trade deal after Brexit. Johnson promisess to take the UK out of the EU on January 31 and agree a trade deal with the bloc within 11 months, with no extension. EU leaders will move "swiftly" at a summit on December 13 but are disinclined to send Johnson a positive signal.

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Brexit Diplomat Resigns

CNN

British diplomat Alexandra Hall Hall has resigned from her US embassy post as Brexit counsellor:
"I have been increasingly dismayed by the way in which our political leaders have tried to deliver Brexit, with reluctance to address honestly, even with our own citizens, the challenges and
trade-offs which Brexit involves."

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Lucy in the Sky

The Times

Natalie Portman has cornered the market for roles that require the deeply affecting depiction of mental disintegration.
Her latest role is as Lucy Cola, a NASA astronaut newly returned from space, who is debriefed by staff psychologist Will Plimpton. Lucy has been changed utterly by her ten days aboard the ISS.
Plimpton can sense the change in her and pushes with questions. Lucy changes the subject and smiles, hiding a conflicted world of angst below. Lucy has been spiritually and physically unleashed, but everything goes wrong for her.
We see a widescreen world around her in glimpses and in aerial shots. Yet mostly we are stuck with Lucy and the limits of her character as she vainly kicks against the absurdities of daily life on Earth.
Portman is an old hand at this. We sympathise with Lucy. We live in her head. This is acting from a modern great.

AR Seen it — The movie is an excellent portrait of an astronaut careening from existential epiphany in low Earth orbit to crisis in a failed extramarital affair. Natalie Portman conveys the mood swings with superb conviction.
 

2019 December 5

Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

House speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House of Representatives will begin drafting impeachment articles against US president Trump, pushing ahead with a rapid timetable that could set the stage for a vote before Christmas to charge him with high crimes and misdemeanors.

AR The sooner the better.

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Brexit MEPs Quit

Financial Times

Four Brexit Party MEPs have resigned the party whip and urged party supporters to vote for the Conservatives in the UK general election next week. Party leader Nigel Farage said he was "disappointed" with the MEPs.

AR Conservatives have defeated his party at the cost of losing much of their own.

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Quantum Entropy

Michael Brooks

The second law of thermodynamics says the entropy (roughly, disorder) of a closed system will always increase over time. This may explain time's arrow.
Ludwig Boltzmann defined entropy S in terms of the number W of equivalent ways you can rearrange the molecules in a closed system: S = kB ln W, where kB is Boltzmann's constant (about 14 yoctojoule per kelvin).
James Clerk Maxwell imagined a demon inside a box of gas. The gas molecules start off evenly mixed, unable to do useful work. He said the demon can reduce entropy in the box by separating hot molecules from cold ones. The demon uses information about the molecules and their movements, but with limited memory it discards information.
Charles Bennett showed that discarding information increases entropy. We can ask how information relates to the second law of thermodynamics.
Wojciech Zurek says that for finite systems it makes no sense to talk in terms of all possible arrangements of molecules. He aims to define entropy in terms of quantum entanglement. A quantum system is entangled with its environment. This sets the amount and the nature of the available information about its state and hence measures its entropy.
Anthony Aguirre is working on observational entropy, which reflects the amount of information that can be gained in a series of measurements on a quantum system. By Heisenberg uncertainty, measuring one property changes other properties, so the order of the measurements can change the observational entropy in a system.
Vlatko Vedral says quantum thermodynamics might shed new light on the arrow of time, the origin of life, and the expansion of the universe.

AR Zurek is right: Entanglement constrains W in the Boltzmann formula — but how?
 

NATO 70

⦿ Al Drago / The New York Times
NATO summit, London, 2019-12-04


Rotary
Santa train, 2019-12-03

With Vikki Slade
⦿ MB
With Vikki Slade, 2019-11-09

COP25

 

2019 December 4

NATO @ 70

The New York Times

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg: "NATO is agile. NATO is active. NATO is adapting. NATO is the most effective alliance in history."

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Germany in NATO

Spiegel Plus

Germany wants Europe to pay more of the NATO administrative budget as a gesture of goodwill. The United States now pays about 22% of the €2.1 billion budget. The German plan was to cut this to about 16%, but France vetoed it, not wishing to appease US president Trump.
NATO nations often use creative accounting in their annual defense spending reports. Berlin is reporting €800 million of its development aid budget for 2020. Adding a bill for government aircraft increases German defense spending from 1.39% to 1.42% of GDP.
German NATO representative Hans-Dieter Lucas: "There is no alternative to NATO for the foreseeable future when it comes to defending Europe."

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Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

House Democrats say US president Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to help him in the 2020 presidential election. The House Intelligence Committee report concluded that he sought to undermine US democracy and endangered national security, then worked to conceal his actions from Congress. Another committee will decide whether to recommend impeachment.

Report on the Impeachment Inquiry

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Is Liberal Democracy Gone?

William Davies

Liberal democracy depends on public confidence that some things are beyond politics. The media traditionally occupy a separate sphere to political parties and leaders. Now this distinction is gone.
A reckless strand now dominates the UK ruling party, thanks to the Brexit crisis and an opportunist prime minister. It claims that Westminster and Whitehall are betraying "the people" and pursuing their own political agenda.
A cornerstone of liberal politics is separation of powers. The US constitution was built on a tripartite system of government, separating executive, legislature, and judiciary. The dominance of one center of power is fatal for liberalism.
The domains of politics and media have collapsed into each other. The internet has dissolved the barriers between them. This new ecosystem has given rise to a new type of public figure.
 

2019 December 3

Science Denial

Naomi Oreskes

Climate change is here. People are being killed by floods and hurricanes. The blatant and shameless rejection of science by the president of the United States makes things worse.
Around the world, most people accept science. But we see resistance to scientific conclusions that people think threaten or conflict with their self-interest. Denial is specific.
A smart and well-funded campaign is persuading ordinary people that their self-interest is the same as that of corporate bosses. We are seeing the political strategy of manufacturing doubt. Once you can undermine the belief in facts and credible authority, you can say almost anything.
At first, scientists misdiagnosed this as a problem of scientific literacy and tried to explain the issue more clearly. But this is a problem of ideologically motivated misinformation. We need to expose the motivation of powerful corporations.

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Black Hole Singularities

Steve Nadis

A Harvard University Black Hole Initiative (BHI) team probed the interiors of theoretical black holes to determine what kind of singularity lies inside.
A singularity is a place where general relativity (GR) breaks down. GR can break in different ways, leading to spacelike, timelike, or null singularities.
The BHI team analyzed a rotating black hole formed from the gravitational collapse of matter in an elementary scalar field.
Inside the black hole event horizon, charged stationary and rotating black holes have a second spherical surface of no return, called the inner horizon. The black holes the team studied form a null singularity at the inner horizon. Matter and radiation can pass through a null singularity for most of the black hole lifetime, until its spacetime curvature grows exponentially to infinity.
Once a particle approaches a spacelike singularity, the GR equations evolve only along the space direction, whereas a particle approaching a timelike singularity has a fixed position in space but still has a future. Outside observers cannot see spacelike singularities but can see timelike ones. The black holes the team examined always contain a spacelike central singularity.
The singularities in black hole calculations should disappear in a quantum theory of gravity.
 

2019 December 2

Another Brexit Crisis

Financial Times

If the Conservatives win the general election on December 12, the UK faces a tough and potentially humiliating trade negotiation with the EU.
By insisting that a deal must be done by December 2020, UK prime minister Boris Johnson has set an ambitious — some say impossible — timetable for talks. His critics say Britain is heading for another Brexit crisis if he is returned to Downing Street.
Johnson says the UK will leave the EU by the end of January and then negotiate a trade deal within 11 months. He claims a deal will be easy because London and Brussels are aligned on regulations, yet he wants to diverge from those regulations.
EU officials say they have only a few months to strike a deal, to give time to check it, translate it, and ratify it. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier says the timetable is "exceptionally short" and "a first moment of truth" will come in summer 2020.
The UK would face an economic crisis if it left the EU in December 2020 without a trade deal and defaulted to WTO rules.

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Climate Summit

New Scientist

The 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) is an annual meeting to discuss international action on climate change. Attendees are expected to submit their carbon plans in 2020 for the first time since 2015. The EU and China are expected to announce their plans at a joint summit next September.
 

2019 December 1

Atlas Shrugged

The Guardian

The Atlas Network is based in Arlington, Virginia. Members of the network cooperate in fighting for a vision of free markets and limited government. They call themselves the freedom movement.
Two UK Atlas partners, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and the Legatum Institute, advocated for a hard break from the EU and briefed Brexiteer MPs in the European Research Group (ERG).
IEA director Mark Littlewood: "Brexit provides us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to radically trim the size of the state and cut the regulatory burden."
Partners in the Atlas Network share an ideology of self-reliance, market freedom, and minimal tax and regulation. Atlas offers coaching in fundraising, messaging, and marketing.
The UK think-tank Initiative for Free Trade (IFT) worked with other Atlas partners to draft a 239-page legal text for a US-UK free trade deal that would radically liberalize the UK economy.
When MPs returned from the summer recess in 2018, they found the agenda seized by the ERG, with a vision for Brexit that involved walking away from an EU trade deal and reverting to WTO rules.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has surrounded himself with such thinkers.

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Eternal Beginning

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

In the beginning, spacetime exploded out of nothing and expanded, in an era known as inflation. This expansion accelerated exponentially, faster than the speed of light, for a very brief moment.
Inflation theory fits our cosmological data almost perfectly, but we still lack an exact equation to describe the energy that governs inflation. Many candidates for this energy equation imply spacetime may be eternal.
Not everyone loves this idea. But so far, no one has offered an alternative idea for why the contents of spacetime look the way they do that matches the data as gracefully as inflation does.

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Axions

Charlie Wood

Most of the mass in the universe could come in the form of axions. The Axion Dark Matter Experiment (ADMX) is sensitive enough to detect the most likely kind of axion and has already ruled out a swath of possible axion masses.
The axion could solve two enigmas at once. Its invisible presence would explain why the universe is more massive than it looks. It would also help us explain why the strong and weak nuclear forces are so different.
The strong nuclear force says the neutron obeys charge-parity (CP) symmetry: Inverting the charge of each of its three quarks and reflecting them all in a mirror leaves the neutron unchanged. But the weak nuclear force does not share this symmetry. This is the strong CP problem.
The strong CP problem boils down to the value of parameter θ in the equations for the strong force: θ = 0. Theorists recast θ as a field with a value that could settle to zero everywhere. The field has a particle — an axion.
Pierre Sikivie calculated that the axion might be something like a photon, but with just a wisp of mass, and could decay into two photons. Saturating a volume with a strong magnetic field would stimulate axion decay. A device tuned to resonate at the same wavelength as the axions could coax them to decay.
ADMX slowly adjusts its resonance and scans for axions. The experiment has scanned from 0.65 GHz to 0.8 GHz, ruling out axions masses between 2.7 μeV and 3.3 μeV, with wider ranges to come.

AR A mass in the μeV range is tiny.
 

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